(Part 2 of a 2 part series on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, originally printed in the November/December 1995 MCOI Journal)
In our last issue of the Journal, we talked about the resurrection. We noted that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very basis of the Christian faith. . . no resurrection no Christianity. Any religious figure in history could be said to have been “resurrected” in some spiritual sense; only Christianity has the empty tomb! We looked at the evidence and the eyewitnesses to the event, and we concluded that there is much reason to have faith in the factual resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We also noted that there are those who claim to believe in the resurrection, yet deny the physical nature of the resurrection of Jesus. In other words, they say that Jesus was raised, but that His body was not raised. They say His person was resurrected, in a spirit form of some type, but not His physical body. Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s) come immediately to mind with their belief that the man Jesus forever ceased to exist at His death, but that He was raised as a mighty spirit person, Michael the Archangel. But the JW’s certainly are not the only ones to hold such a “spirit resurrection” view. If the church as a whole continues to drift further and further away from its historical Biblical moorings and wades deeper and deeper into “feel good religion,” we will see more and more challenges to the bedrock doctrines of the faith, with the average Christian being less and less able to respond or, perhaps, even unable to comprehend the seriousness of the issue. I am sad to report that I have been asked by churched Christians what difference it makes, anyhow, whether the body of Jesus was raised or not? We must emphatically state that to deny the bodily resurrection is to deny the resurrection. . . PERIOD.
Denial of the resurrection is certainly nothing new. We find it even in the New Testament, with skeptics questioning Paul’s teaching by asking just what kind of body the dead were to be raised IN. The Greeks believed in life after death, but they surely did not believe that the body that had died would be resurrected to new life. Paul calls such a skeptic a fool (fighting words to be sure) and says that if the dead be not raised, our faith is in vain.
Much of the writings of the early church fathers were devoted to this issue as well. In reading through the early Christian writings we find even many of the exact arguments against the physical resurrection as we find today amongst JW’s and liberals. In volume 1, p.294 of the Ante Nicene Fathers, under the subheading “OBJECTIONS TO THE RESURRECTION OF THE FLESH,” Justin Martyr states:
“They who maintain the wrong opinion (Poor Justin, shackled to the antiquated, intolerant Western idea that opinions can be right or wrong.) say that there is no resurrection of Ihe flesh; giving as their reason that it is impossible that what is corrupted and dissolved should be restored to the same as it had been.”
The argument that Justin is refuting is now close to 1800 years old, yet it is a favorite of rational skeptics even today, which only proves that there is nothing new under the sun.
The Watchtowcr Bible and Tract Society’s 1988 publication Insight On The Scriptures, Volume 2, p.790 states:
“But those whom Jehovah pleases to raise to an earthly resurrection* what body does he give them? It could not be the same body, of exactly the same atoms. If a man dies and is buried, by process of decay, his body is reconverted into organic, chemicals that are absorbed by chemicals.”
“First then, in respect to those who say it is impossible for God to raise [the physical body], it seems to me that I should show that they are ignorant, professing as they do in word that they are believers, yet by their works proving themselves to be unbelieving, even more unbelieving than the unbelievers.”
He makes the argument that if the heathen believe that their gods can do all things (and we know that they are mere idols and devils how much more ought we to believe in the power of our God (who is the true God) to do as He says He will do.
The fact of the physical resurrection is very plainly taught in the New Testament. When Thomas doubted the resurrection, what proof did he demand before he would believe? He wanted to see the wounds! Spirits don’t have scars or wounds. Bodies have wounds. He wanted to touch the body with those wounds, to verify that Jesus had been raised. And we can be thankful today that Thomas reacted as he did, because proof of the bodily resurrection is just exactly what he and we got. Jesus did not rebuke Thomas, but offered His body with its wounds as proof. If He was merely a spirit, would He have done this? Was He trying to deceive Thomas? And us?
The Watchtower Society claims in the Live Forever book that Christ’s appearance to Thomas does not mean that his body was raised. “Well then,” they ask on p. 144 of that book, “what happened to the fleshly body of Jesus?” Then they proceed to inform us that God removed the body from the tomb because, if He hadn’t:
“Jesus’ disciples would not have understood that he had been raised from the dead, since at that time they did not fully appreciate spiritual things.”
What they are saying, then, is that God removed the body of Jesus from the tomb so that the disciples would think that Jesus had walked right out of the grave in that body? God merely deceived the disciples for their own good. Incredible!! In speaking of the beliefs of the disciples, the Society’s founder, Charles Taze Russell, remarked in the Jan. 15. 1908 Watchtower that:
“the disciples evidently got the thought that [Jesusj referred to his earthly body as the Temple of God, and supposed that our Lord’s prediction was fulfilled three days after his crucifixion. But we cannot so view the matter.”
What a telling statement about the counterfeit nature of this belief system. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was raised in His body and still lives today in that very same body, yet those who would deny the resurrection today while still claiming to be Christians (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses) do utilize certain Biblical passages to bolster the case they have made against the physical nature of the resurrection. How does one use the Bible to deny its own central message?
In an interview I heard after the OJ verdict, the judge in the trial of Susan Smith remarked that he was glad he had not allowed cameras into the courtroom. So are we all, in hindsight … let the cameras roll on this one and see if we, the jury, can bring in a verdict that all of us can agree on. Our own favorite spider, T. Ranchela, is the heretical attorney for the “spirit resurrection of Jesus” team. And now, from our courtroom. ..
Objection, your honor! Doesn’t 1 Peter 3:18 clearly teach that Jesus was crucified “in the flesh” or in bodily form but was resurrected as a spirit creature???
Overruled! The JW’s New World Translation. reads that He was “made alive in the spirit” and, while some other translations such as the NASB agree with this rendering, other translations say He was “made alive BY the Spirit.” However, in neither case does this passage state that Jesus became a spirit creature or was raised as a spirit. Biblically, the two terms “made alive” or “quickened” always refer to bodies and never to spirits.
This passage is teaching that Jesus’ body was “made alive” or resurrected by the Holy Spirit. This is brought out very clearly in Rom. 8:11 where Paul states that the Holy Spirit is going to “give life to our mortal bodies” just as He raised Jesus.
Does the phrase “in the Spirit” mean that the person referred to is a spirit creature? Is the phrase, “in the Spirit,” anywhere Biblically defined? Yes, in Rom. 8:9 it says that a person is “in the Spirit” if the Spirit of God dwells in him. So, obviously, Jesus was resurrected “in the Spirit” at the moment in time when the Spirit of God entered His dead, mortal body and “quickened” it or “made it alive.”
What about other Biblical passages which refer to someone as being “in the spirit,” such as Rev. 1:10 where John tells us that he was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s day. . . was he (John) then a spirit creature?
Objection #2: Doesn’t 1 Cor. 15:44 teach that natural bodies are raised as spiritual bodies? Isn’t it true that a spiritual body is an invisible, immaterial body?
In his excellent book. The Battle for the Resurrection (which I highly recommend), Dr. Norman Geisler states:
“To speak of an immaterial body or a ‘spiritual corporeality’ is a contradiction of terms. As Webster notes, a body is ‘the material part of nature.’ And the English word ‘spirit’, by definition, is something immaterial. Hence, an immaterial body would be an immaterial material, which is a contradiction in terms.”
What does Paul mean when he speaks of a spiritual body then? We speak of spiritual people. Does this mean that they are invisible and immaterial? What about the spiritual food and spiritual drink spoken of in 1 Cor. 10:3-4? Were they immaterial as well? To be “spiritual” means to be “of the Spirit” or empowered and motivated by the Spirit. That is exactly what the spiritual resurrection body will be.
Objection #3: 1 Cor. 15:45 teaches that “the last Adam,” Jesus Christ, became a spirit creature at His resurrection.
First of all, note that the word “became” inserted after the phrase “the last Adam” is not to be found in the Greek, so it could be stated that while Adam became a living-soul by receiving life, Jesus is the life-giving spirit! This verse shows not a comparison, but a contrast between the two Adams. The question now is not how Jesus is the same as Adam, but how is Jesus different from Adam. Jesus is able to impart life… Adam could only receive it. Did Jesus gain this ability to impart life at His resurrection? No. He was a life-giver from the first, being the Lord from Heaven (v.47). Adam, just a mortal person such as ourselves, could only impart life to us through the natural human way of reproduction. We inherit this life just by being conceived into the human race. We have no choice. This natural body we receive through Adam is dishonorable, perishable, and weak.
In contrast, Jesus has the ability to impart eternal life to us in a spiritual body which is glorified, imperishable and powerful. But it I,. nevertheless, a body and quite material. We inherit this life through Christ’s Spirit who indwells us by faith. It is our choice whether to accept Christ’s Spirit or not. We were born into the “Adam family.” We now have the opportunity to switch family heads, to be horn again into the “Jesus family.” JUST as we did nothing to earn our entry into Adam’s family,we can do nothing to earn our way into Jesus “family.” It’s a gift; we only need to accept it!
Objection #4: Jesus cannot possibly possess a material body in heaven because, according to 1 Cor. 15:50, “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
First of all, we know that Paul, who penned these words, taught in 2 Cor. 12:2 that “a man in Christ” (referring to himself) was “caught up into the third heaven.” Paul claims that he does not know whether he was in his body or out of it when he made this excursion. Duane Magnani calls this passage a “Christian nugget” because it teaches two truths which are anathema to a JW. First, that it is indeed possible for a man to go to heaven with his body, even his mortal, perishable one. Second, this passage clearly teaches that a man could exist outside of his body! Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, basically, that a man (a soul) is a combination of his body and his life force. The life force is much like electricity, carrying no personality traits, so when it leaves the dying body, the person who was ceases to exist. Obviously. Paul didn’t think so.
1 Cor. 15:50 seems to be a parallel passage to John 3:3 where Jesus taught Nicodemus that a person would not even see, much less inherit, the kingdom of God unless he was born again. He went on to say, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” “Flesh and blood” (an unregenerate, Adamic man) cannot see or inherit the kingdom of God, We must be born again of the Spirit of God in order to attain to the resurrection of immortality and imperishability. In other words, this passage does not purport to teach that material bodies cannot enter heaven but, that to fit oneself for citizenship in the heavenly kingdom, one must first be born again by accepting Christ’s Spirit and being indwelt by Him, then by having one’s mortal, perishable body transformed by His Spirit at the resurrection into a glorified body for eternal life.
Another thing to consider is that Jesus told the disciples in Luke 24 that He had a flesh and bone body. Flesh and bone, but NO blood. The glorified resurrection body is not empowered by the blood, but by the Holy Spirit. That is why it is referred to as a spiritual body rather than a natural body.
Most important since we know from this teaching that we will not enter the eternal state in our mortal bodies, but must he transformed by the Holy Spirit at our resurrection or at the Lord’s return, just how are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are neither born again nor expecting to have their mortal bodies transformed into a spiritual resurrection body such as Christ possessed after His resurrection, going to see or inherit the kingdom? Both of these things shall be denied to them on the basis of their own refusal to accept them!
Objection #5: Luke 24:17-31; Luke 24:31; John 20:14; John 21:3-4. If Jesus was in the same body, as when IK walked the earth only in glorified form, why did not h^ disciples recognize him???
JW’s and others who deny the resurrection teach that Jesus was raised as a mighty spirit creature who merely took on bodies whenever He appeared to the disciples. One major way they defend this teaching is to point to several scriptures showing that Jesus was not always instantly recognized when He appeared to His followers.
In most cases, Jesus was recognized by the people to whom He appeared to but, in the passages listed above, the texts themselves give the reasons for the lack of immediate recognition.
Luke 24; 16: “and their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” Why would their eyes have had to have been prevented from recognizing Him if He were in a different body?
Luke 24:31: “and their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Again, the lack of recognition had to do with their eyes, not the body of Jesus.
John 20:1: “Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still DARK”. . .v. 1. “Mary was weeping.” It was dark, she was crying, she was turned away from Him, and she did not expect to see a miracle such as the one she witnessed. \
John 21:4: “day was breaking”. . v.8. “they were not far from the land, about 100 yards away”. . .Visibility from 100 yards away, at dawn, is not the greatest, which is probably why their eyes did not need to be prevented from recognizing Him.
It seems, from these texts, that Jesus had his own reasons for revealing Himself to His followers in the ways that did. If He had wanted instant recognition, He certainly could have gotten that, but He appears to enjoy surprising them. Wouldn’t you?
Objection #6: If Jesus had a body, we could see him.
Very true. The reason we can’t see Him is because He is now in heaven. We cannot see into heaven, can we? He has promised to return, though, and at His ascension the angels promised that He would come in the same way as He left. In Acts 1:9-11. the disciples were not standing there gazing up at an invisible spirit creature (people do not gaze at invisible things), but at the risen Lord in His body. The text says that “a cloud received Him out of their sight.” What did the cloud hide? His body!
Rev. 1:7: “Behold. He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him.” What could be clearer?
The February, 1881 Watchtower tells us why the founder of the JW’s carne to the conclusion that Jesus is an invisible spirit creature and why He will never return to earth in visible form. This fascinating publication tells us that Jesus was expected to return in a visible, fleshly body in the fall of 1874, and He never showed up! What was wrong? It couldn’t be that their dales were wrong!!? No, according to Russell, the dates were right, so it must be that He did in fact return, but He came in an invisible body, which explains why they didn’t see Him. Incredible but true. . . Even more incredible, while they once held that Jesus came invisibly in the fall of 1874, now they dogmatically assert the He “came” in 1914? Invisibly, of course. . . So, how do we know, beyond a doubt, that Jesus is an invisible spirit creature? Well, you can’t see Him, can you?
Yet we know that Jesus is with us, not as a creature with an intangible, incorporeal “spirit body” (whatever that may be), but by His Spirit. He said, “Lo I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” Since His ascension. He has been ever with us by His Spirit. In fact, not only with us but in us! Can we understand this? No, but true Christians do not reject Biblical teachings because they cannot fully understand them. My point is, why would He have needed to “come invisibly” in 1914 or any other year when He stated that He would be with us all the time?
Objection #7: If Jesus had a body, how could he go through locked doors, etc.? Material bodies just can’t do these things.
Begging the question, your honor? The text does not say that Jesus walked through either the locked door or the walls to get into that room. It offers us no explanation at all how Jesus got into that room; it just tells us that the door was locked and He appeared among them. But even if Jesus did walk through walls or doors, etc., scripturally, we are on solid ground when we maintain that Jesus could do impossible, miraculous things while in a material body. Did not Jesus, while in a material body (just a mortal body, not even a resurrected, immortal, glorified one) walk on water? In fact, the disciples supposed that He must have been a spirit person in order to accomplish this feat, but Jesus assured them that He was not (Mt. 14:26).
Also, was Peter in an immaterial body when he walked out of prison right in front of squadrons of soldiers who never saw him leave (Acts 12:1-19)? Also, in Acts 5:17-24, we have an account of the jailed Apostles. The text states that “the Lord opened the doors of the jail.” Yet, to the guards, it probably seemed as if they had gone right through the doors (or walls) since their eyes were somehow prevented from seeing the doors open and seeing the Apostles walk through them. Material chains fall off of material hands, material men walk right through material doors under the watchful, material eyeballs of people who, somehow, never see them leave. Strange stuff, but true. (See also Acts 5:17-24.)
Objection #8: Luke 24:31 & 36. Did not Jesus appear and disappear at will? Doesn’t this quality’ indicate that he is just an immaterial, spirit person?
The texts do not tell us how He left their sight, or how He suddenly appeared among them, only that He did. One thing this text does prove is that He certainly was not a spirit creature. When He appeared like that, the disciples made a rationalistic error and thought He was a spirit person. But He corrected them saying. “Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Touch me and see for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have!” According to Jesus, the way to doubt the resurrection is to believe that He is only a spirit person, without flesh and bone.
Also, we certainly do not have to assume from these texts that Jesus became invisible. Just because the disciples ceased to see Him does not mean He was invisible and immaterial. We cannot see many things which are, nevertheless, quite visible, such as a speeding bullet. Speed can alter the perception ability of the onlooker, but does not alter the actual visibility of the object not seen. So, if the resurrection body is capable of great speed, which is quite possible in view of its ability to travel between heaven and earth, that would certainly explain this phenomenon.
Then too, we have another Biblical case for this type of travel: What about Phillip’s departure from the presence of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39)? Did Phillip become invisible or immaterial, or does the text more likely teach that he was snatched away very quickly and that is why the eunuch “saw him no more”?
Objection #9: It is obvious that bodies that are buried and decomposed cannot be raised up again. What about a body that had been torn apart by wild animals, perhaps eaten by several different animals and became part of each of those animals? How could such a body be raised?
Paul likens the body in 1 Cor. 15:36-38 to a seed which, death, is planted into the ground. Ask yourself. . . when a peach falls to the ground and is “planted,” what happens to? It rots and is dissolved and goes its way, perhaps eaten by animals or worms and the like. Does that eating or dissolving prevent its “resurrection” as a peach tree? Not at all! One little part of it, its seed, is the only necessary bridge to the new life to come. We don’t care what happens to the original peach that was sown, do we? Of course not! We don’t expect that peach to be miraculously put back together, patched up and reassembled to jump out of the ground as a peach. Just fractional speck within is transformed into the resurrection “body,” the tree. And God does not re-create the new peach out of nothing, does He? No, there is physical continuity with the seed that was planted. The new life springs out of it. We would never plant a seed over here and expect the new plant to come up over there out of nothing!
That is the whole point of planting any seed; it becomes the new plant!!! And so it is with the resurrected human body. We don’t expect the entire old human body to be resembled and pop out of the grave, but we know from Paul’s illustration that some part of it, the “seed,” will be acted upon by God and be transformed into the resurrection body, far more glorious than the body which was “planted” but with a definite physical connection to it. The name of the game is transformation, never re-creation.
Daniel 2:2 says that “Multitudes who sleep in the dust the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” What “dust” are these people sleeping in? At least, in part, the dust of their own mortal bodies. Yet, something of that mortal body, which Paul likens to a “seed,” shall be transformed into the glorious resurrection body for the redeemed or a vessel of contempt for the unbeliever.
Objection #10: After His crucifixion, the man Jesus was dead, forever dead. After three days, God remembered” his Son, reactivated his “Life Pattern,”anid placed the “reactivated Life Pattern” into a newly created spirit body.
What an imaginative solution to the problem produced denying both the bodily resurrection and the soul! Duane Magnani. of Witness Inc.. has written an excellent book, Another Jesus detailing the illogic of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reasoning on this issue.
In short, this position is totally untenable from a logical standpoint, because there is no possible connection between the crucified Lord and risen Lord in JW theology. The so-called “Life Pattern” (or personality) did not die so, logically, it cannot be raised from death. Persons live and die; personalities cannot live or die. Your personality is not you: it is merely a set of characteristics which describe you. It is what you are like, never what you are. “What you arelike” cannot be resurrected from the dead; only YOU can be resurrected.
The JW theology maintains a truly bizarre “Xerox resurrection” wherein the deceased person is exactly “copied” and passed off as the “original” person. Yet, we all know that any copy is a separate and distinct entity from the thing copied. The copy never becomes the original.
This scenario won’t wash Biblically either. Mark 15:46 states that Joseph of Arimathea took HIM down, wrapped HIM in the linen sheet, and laid HIM in a tomb. HIM who? If Jesus had ceased to exist, then the body of Jesus was no longer HIM! Picking up in Chapter 16:6, the angel said, “HE is risen.” HE who? HE, Jesus, the one who had been laid in the tomb.Ω
Love to all,
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