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The Resurrection Body of Christ

By Timothy King

To: Larry Hall, Sword of the Spirit Apologetics

Re: What was the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body?

Dear Larry:

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk a little more about Christ’s resurrected and coming body.  Larry, you make several dogmatic statements about this.  Again, the rod you use to measure the rightness of your position is this historically fluctuating rod called “orthodoxy.”

It is interesting that “orthodoxy” today does not mean the same as it did a couple of centuries ago.  Today, it’s defined as , “Adhering to an accepted or established doctrine,” or “Of or relating to the most conservative or traditional form of a religion, philosophy or ideology.”  (The American Heritage Dictionary, third edition, 1994)

According to the modern definition, Medieval Roman Catholicism was “orthodox” in its day since it was the “accepted or established doctrine.”  According to the modern definition, “orthodox” as an adjective could be affixed to “Islam” as someone is considered whether or not they’re an “orthodox Muslim.”

In 1828, “orthodox” was defined as “Sound in the Christian faith; believing the genuine doctrines taught in the Scriptures.” (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, emphasis mine) As a preterist, I believe that I am completely orthodox in every way and you have presented nothing to me in your newsletter or by personal communication (which, to this date, September 30, 2004, you have not responded) that would cause me to think differently.  I think of myself as orthodox according to the 1828 definition.

Frankly (and I cannot speak for all preterists), I have little concern as to whether or not I am in line with the modern form of “orthodoxy,” because “accepted or established doctrine” may not always be biblically established.  And if you think about it, Larry, before coming to Central Baptist, you were pressed out of your previous church because you were not “orthodox” in the modern sense due to your conflict with the Word of Faith doctrines.  Those doctrines became “accepted or established doctrines” in your church and you went against them.

But I digress. . .

You say, “Jesus was VERY clear to explain his resurrected and glorified body to His disciples. He called it a physical body and told them that He was NOT a spiritual body. He then proved it by eating broiled fish and a honeycomb in their presence! ‘Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet’ (Luke 24:39-40).”

On this, I have very little dispute with what you say.  I do agree (as do most preterists) that He presented Himself to the disciples in a physical, corporeal body after His resurrection.  Further, I do believe that the body of Jesus that suffered on the cross is that same body that the disciples saw up until His ascension.  I agree with you that it was not a spiritual body, it was a physical body.

The only dispute I have with you is whether or not Jesus resurrected body was also His glorified body.  You assume it is, but you do not say why.  I believe that the Scriptures teach that the body in whicht Jesus was crucified was the same body that came out of the grave, but that the body in which He now dwells is one that was changed or transformed.

Here I must appeal to the word of God to clarify my understanding of this subject. I would assert that He now exists in His glorified body, but I must appeal to the Scriptures that it is not of the same essence that was crucified, buried, raised and ascended. It was changed after His ascent to the Father.  Please examine my use of God’s word and explain to me if I am anywhere in error.

First, I do not deny that the body that Christ had from birth to death was a physical, mortal, perishable, natural body. Your statement leads me to believe that you take a position that  the body Jesus was raised with is that same body and that it was His glorified body (correct me if I’m wrong here).  I believe that the body of Christ at the resurrection was sometime later changed into a glorified state. Let me make some observations from the word of God and draw some conclusions for your consideration.

Let’s start with the period of time after His resurrection, but before His ascension.  On these occasions, there were times He was immediately recognized (Matthew 28:9, 10; Mark 16:14). At times He was not (Luke 24:13-31; John 20:14). He says He is “bone and flesh” (Luke 24:39) and He ate food (Luke 24:42, 43).

His ability to vanish from sight is interesting (Luke 24:31), but we cannot conclude that this was caused by a change in the nature of His physical body after the resurrection.  Before His crucifixion, He was able to walk on water (John 6:19) and pass through hostile crowds untouched (Luke 4:39, 40).  What’s the difference?  My conclusion thus far is that we have no reason to doubt that Jesus’ body that went in the grave is the same body that came out of the grave with no change, not even decay (Acts 2:27).

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for Jesus’ second coming to ascertain the appearance of Christ in His post-ascension, glorified state.  We have the inspired record of Jesus appearing on multiple occasions after His ascension.  Was the body of His post-ascension appearances similar to or different from His post-resurrection/pre-ascension body?  Here are some observation and questions in no particular order for you to consider.

1. Paul declares that Christ appeared to Him and that he has seen the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8). What was His appearance then and how does it compare to His post-resurrection/pre-ascension appearances?

In Acts 9:3-4, we have this account: As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  This was definitely Jesus (v. 5).

In v. 17, we are told that this was “…the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming…” Here was a post-ascension appearance by Jesus in which there is no mention of a “bodily” appearance. The only physical manifestations mentioned were a bright “light from heaven” and a voice.

Before one says that Paul did not see Christ’s appearance because of his blindness, consider that those who were with him were not blinded and it is said they witnessed the appearance of Christ as a “light” (Acts 22:9).

If Jesus had a physical, corporeal body which He will inhabit when He comes a second time, why did He not reveal Himself with this to Paul on the road to Damascus?  Is He saving His physical body for later?  Or could it be that His physical body had been changed into its glorious essence by this time?

2. 1 Timothy 6:16 describes Jesus as He “who alone possesses immortality.” Reason with me on this: Was His body before the crucifixion mortal or immortal? It had to be mortal, because if it wasn’t, how could He have died for our sins? Is the body He possesses now (or at the time Paul wrote 1 Timothy) mortal or immortal? It has to be immortal since the inspired word says so.  Conclusion: Jesus’ body was changed.

Further, if He were to return in a mortal, unchanged body, He could be put to death again and this we know will not happen. My point here is that somewhere along the way (I believe after His ascension) that the body of Jesus was changed in its glory and nature; from mortal to immortal, from weakness to power, from natural to spiritual.

3. Do we not find in 1 Corinthians 15 a clear statement of the nature of the resurrection as involving change? Certainly, the bulk of the chapter deals with the resurrection ofour bodies, but there is also a continuity with the body of Jesus, in that it was changed. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God…” hence, the need for change.

Again, Larry, please note this very carefully: I am not denying that Christ has a body, I am affirming that it is a “body of glory” that He did not possess before His crucifixion and ascension.  Neither am I affirming that our resurrection (whether past or future) will be bodiless.  I believe that the resurrection does indeed involve the saints receiving new bodies — new, immortal, imperishable, spiritual bodies changed in nature from the bodies we now have.

4. The appearance of Jesus to John on Patmos certainly bears out the idea of a change in bodily appearance and nature (Revelation 1:12-17). This description bears noresemblance to the appearances found at the end of the gospels and beginning of Acts. Further, the reaction of John, who was a witness to His resurrection and ascension, reacts much differently to this appearance of His beloved Savior in His glory. Jesus’ body was changed.

5.  Futurists often cite 1 John 3:2 as a proof-text for a bodily coming and our bodily resurrection to be like Jesus’ body: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”  But if John is saying here that we will be like Jesus in His resurrected body, why then did John say, “. . . it doth not yet appear what we shall be”?

After all, wasn’t John a witness to the resurrection?  If he was talking about the body of the pre-ascension Jesus, wouldn’t he have said, “We have seen what we will be like”?  This passage only makes sense if you believe that the body of Jesus was transformed into something that John had not yet seen, so it had to be different from what he had seen.

6.  You have yet to address the listed comings of Yahweh in the Old Testament (see my response to you, Acts 9:1-11) and explain the nature of those comings as applied to Jesus.  If, in the Old Testament record, Yahweh could “come” and not be seen optically or bodily, why couldn’t the glorified Jesus — who, while on earth, was Yahweh in the flesh, don’t you agree? — have come in the same way in A.D. 70?

A very important question I have personally is: Do you see in any of my comments here any statement that would take away from the glory of Christ or dishonor the handling of the inspired word? Do you believe I have had to twist Scriptures to come to my conclusions?  Or is my only sin to be in conflict with modern “orthodoxy?”

Now, Larry, what preterists have been assailed for is denying a bodily resurrection.  That is, that at some future time the corpses that are now in the ground will come up out of the grave (or, the ashes scattered will be reassembled, or whatever).  Preterists have had scorn heaped upon them for teaching that the resurrection is of a spiritual nature.

The preterist in general believes that the resurrection took place in A.D. 70 when Jesus opened the gates of Sheol (the grave).  At that time, those dead (asleep) and separated from God in the grave were released from that to be with God forever.  We say that now, when a Christian dies, they do not have to go to the grave (Sheol/Hades) to be separated from God as did the Old Testament saints.

Under the New Covenant, the believer who dies is immediately raised into the presence of God with a spiritual, glorified body to be with Him forever! Yes, it is a spiritual body, but it is no less a real one. The saints have not been waiting for over 2000 years for a new “physical” body so they may enjoy the presence of God in some fuller way than they are now.  Can you explain why my beliefs as presented here would constitute a sinful doctrine?

Larry, your dogmatism is not a good substitute for faithful adherence to the Scriptures.  Your ponderous appeals to “orthodoxy” and the creeds suggest that you have no real substantial argumentation of your own from the Scriptures.  Think for yourself, Larry instead of “regurgitating” what orthodoxy says.  Answer my presentations by use of your own mind, which I know to be keener than you have shown in your recent newsletter.

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