The Resurrection Body
The facts concerning the resurrection body of Christ have been obscured by the modern rejection of the details of Christ’s resurrection as recorded in the Scripture. Liberals and neo-orthodox scholars have summarily rejected the facts of the Scriptural records, often with hardly any supporting argument. Common among such scholars is the view that Christ arose only in a spiritual sense—continued existence after His death, but not a bodily resurrection.
Though no new evidence has been advanced in support of this rejection of Scripture, the technique has been to assume that the gospel narratives are in serious contradiction of each other, and that what actually happened is that Christ appeared to the disciples in visions or dreams. With no documentary proof whatever, they consider the accounts of the appearances of Christ on the resurrection day and immediately subsequent to it as later fabrications. Even Filson, who seems to accept the fact of the resurrection of Christ, in one sentence sweeps all the resurrection-day appearances into discard in his statement: “Most likely the first appearances to the apostles were in Galilee, and this led to a rallying of the believers in Jerusalem where such appearances continued.”1
Though many liberal arguments have been so soundly refuted as to have fallen into discard even among liberals (such as the swoon theory, the imposture theory, the wrong-tomb theory, and the wishful credulity of the disciples), the mind still assumes that the resurrection is an impossibility and that early Christians were deceived either by their own senses or by other men. On the contrary, conservative scholarship has demonstrated for many generations that the Scriptural accounts are self-sustaining, that they do not contain differences which cannot be reconciled, and in fact offer a web of interrelated facts which make the resurrection of Christ one of the best attested facts of the ancient world. If Scripture may be considered as reliable and infallible revelation, it is found to unfold a marvelous doctrine of resurrection as illustrated in the resurrection of Christ Himself.
The resurrection body of Christ is not only an important aspect of Scriptural revelation unfolding the nature of Christ’s resurrection, but is significant of the fact and character of the resurrection which believers in Christ may anticipate. The resurrection of Christ is at once an apologetic for His deity and His substitutionary death on the cross, and at the same time is substantiating evidence of the important place of the future resurrection of saints in the eschatological program of God. Although, the doctrine of resurrection is discussed theologically in 1 Corinthians 15:12-50, the principal source of information is found in the accounts of Christ after His resurrection. Here, for the first time in history, occurs bodily resurrection which is more than restoration—the creation of a new body similar in some respects to the body laid in the tomb but in other important aspects dramatically different. Christ is given a new kind of body in contrast to those restored to life miraculously prior to the resurrection of Christ, such as Lazarus whose body was restored to what it was before he died.
The resurrection body of Christ identified with the body laid in the tomb. At least eight features identify the body of Christ raised from the dead as the same body which was laid in the tomb.
1. The nailprints in His hands and feet were retained in the resurrection body of Christ (Ps 22:16; Zech 12:10; John 20:25-29). The Scriptures both prophetically and historically record this important fact which would lead to the conclusion that the resurrection body is the old body transformed rather than the creation of a new body entirely different.
2. According to John 20:25-29, the resurrection body also retains the wound which was inflicted in His side on the cross. It was this identification which distinguished Christ from the others who died with Him and was one of the signs demanded by Thomas as proof of His bodily resurrection (John 20:25).
3. In His various appearances after His resurrection, Christ was readily recognized by His disciples as the same person who died and rose again. Any hesitation in recognizing the resurrection of Christ is given special explanation in the Scriptures. Mary Magdalene who, because she was in tears did not immediately recognize Christ, identified Him as her Lord by His voice (John 20:16), even though she apparently had her back turned when He spoke to her. There seems to be no hesitation on the part of the women who met Him or in any of the other appearances except in the case of the disciples who met Him on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Here their delay in recognizing Him is attributed to the fact that they were supernaturally blinded (Luke 24:16, 31). The disciples were so certain of their identification of their risen Lord that they were willing to lay down their lives for this truth.
4. In Christ’s appearance to His disciples in the upper room, He deliberately ate food to prove to them that He was not just a spirit and had actually risen from the grave (Luke 24:41-43).
5. The resurrection body of Christ had a material nature which could be felt. According toMatthew 28:9, the women held Him by the feet when they worshipped Him. In the appearance of Luke 24:39, He invites them to handle Him. In His first appearance to Mary Magdalene inJohn 20:17, it is implied that Mary clung to Him in a physical embrace prompting Christ to say to her “Touch me not,” literally, “do not cling to me.”
6. It is evident from these facts already itemized that the resurrection body of Christ was visible to the natural eye though it also had the capacity of disappearing in a miraculous way. This is illustrated in John 20:20, “The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord.”
7. According to John 20:22, the resurrection body of Christ had the ability of breathing and to this extent corresponded to a natural body.
8. Christ specifically states of His resurrection body that it possessed flesh and bone (Luke 24:39-40), thereby refuting the idea of the disciples that they were seeing merely a spirit when Christ appeared to them. Confirming these identifying features of the body of Christ raised from the dead is the fact of the empty tomb. Christ in His resurrection did not receive another body but the same body.
The resurrection body of Christ changed. After His resurrection Christ manifested certain characteristics which were not seen before His death. Though there seems to be little question in the Bible of the identity of the resurrection body, new qualities were added which distinguished it from the body laid in the tomb.
1. Christ in His resurrection body had a newness of life and a deliverance from the sufferings of His death to such an extent that on several occasions His recognition was somewhat delayed as in the case of Mary Magdalene who mistook Him for the gardener and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:31; John 20:15). The delay in recognition, however, is explained by other factors and is no greater than one would naturally expect considering the tremendous transformation of resurrection.
2. The ordinary limitations of transportation and distance did not seem to restrict Christ after His resurrection. Though before His death He would become weary from long journeys, there is no evidence that His various appearances to His disciples required such ordinary means of transportation. He apparently was delivered from many of the limitations of time and space.
3. The resurrection body of Christ was characterized as having flesh and bones, but He did not seem to be restricted by physical barriers. This is evident in the fact that He could enter closed rooms without apparent difficulty (Luke 24:36; John 20:19).
4. Christ was able to appear and disappear at will after His resurrection (Luke 24:17; John 20:19).
5. No proof is offered in the Scriptures that the resurrection body of Christ required either rest or food to sustain it. Though He could eat, there is no evidence that He needed food to supply nourishment, and there is no mention of Christ sleeping after His resurrection. In so far as Christ’s resurrection body accommodated itself to the conditions of time and space, it was in keeping with the evident purpose of Christ to minister to His disciples prior to His ascension. Some of the features of a resurrection body which were ultimately His such as the glory of heaven were delayed in manifestation.
The glory of the resurrection body. Although many of the features of the resurrection body of Christ are revealed in the Scriptures immediately after His resurrection, it is evident that some aspects are delayed in manifestation until after His ascension. During the forty days of His ministry between the resurrection and His ascension, there was no unusual outward appearance of glory such as had occurred prior to His death on the Mount of Transfiguration. It is evident that His ultimate glory is veiled in order to make possible a ministry to His disciples in scenes of earth. After His ascension into heaven, Christ never appears again apart from His glory. In Acts 7:56, Phillip saw Christ standing at the right hand of the Father in the midst of the glory of God. In the appearance of Christ to Paul recorded in Acts 9:3-6, the glory of Christ was such that Paul was blinded. A similar experience befell the Apostle John in Revelation 1:12-20, where John fell at the feet of Christ as one dead when He beheld the glory of Christ in His resurrection. From these indications, it is safe to conclude that the resurrection body of Christ possesses an intrinsic glory which mortal man cannot behold under ordinary circumstances. This glory was temporarily veiled until the time of Christ’s ascension, but is now a permanent aspect of His resurrection body. The hope of believers for a resurrection body includes not only the features of the resurrection body manifested in Christ prior to the ascension, but also that our resurrection bodies will be glorious and suited for the glorious presence of God. In the case of believers the resurrection body not only includes the physical and visible aspects attributed to Christ but also that our resurrection body will be similar (Eph 5:27; Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2).
Who Raised Christ from the Dead?
Like other important acts of God foundational to the Christian faith, the resurrection of Christ is related to each member of the divine Trinity. God the Father is said to have raised Christ from the dead in numerous passages. This is implied in the Old Testament prophecy of the resurrection of Christ found in Psalm 16:10-11 where His deliverance from Sheol and corruption is attributed to God. Peter cites Psalm 16 in Acts 2:24-32 in relating the resurrection of Christ to God. A similar statement is made in Acts 13:30 where Paul states, “God raised Him from the dead.” The resurrection of Christ is specifically related to the Father in Romans 6:4andEphesians 4:19-20.
Without contradicting the participation of the Father in the resurrection of Christ, the Scriptures also reveal that Christ raised Himself from the dead. In John 2:19 Christ declared, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” A similar statement is made in John 10:17-18 where Christ claimed not only to have power to lay down His life but to take it up again. The work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the resurrection of Christ is less clear. The only reference to it inRomans 8:11 draws a parallel between the resurrection of Christ and the giving of life to the believers, which, in both cases is accomplished “through his spirit that dwelleth in you.” Some have interpreted this passage, however, to refer to the resurrection on the part of the Father in which the Holy Spirit somehow participated.
The relation of the resurrection of Christ to the Three Persons of the Trinity is not, however, a contradiction. In other important works of God, such as the creation of the world and the incarnation of Christ, a similar participation of each member of the Trinity can be observed. In revelation, however, the unity of the Trinity as well as their distinction in persons is carefully supported, and no contradiction remains for one who accepts the doctrine of the Trinity. It is indeed the work of the Triune God.
The Significance of the Resurrection of Christ
All branches of systematic theology have tended to underestimate the significance of the resurrection of Christ. Orthodox scholars usually emphasize the apologetic significance of the resurrection as an attestation to the deity of Christ and the value of His substitutionary death. The resurrection of Christ is normally held to be a proof of the future resurrection of the saints. Often neglected, however, is the relation of the resurrection of Christ to His present work.
In liberal theology, the resurrection of Christ is rejected as a nonessential, and the conclusion is reached that Christ continues to exist after His death but not in a body. Scriptures relating to the subject are spiritualized or explained away. As James Orr noted a generation ago, the tendency now is to deny the resurrection as impossible, and therefore untrue.2
More important, however, than the liberal view in contemporary theology, is the neo-orthodox concept of the resurrection of Christ. Though the more conservative of neo-orthodox scholars tend to recognize the resurrection of Christ as a historic fact, they claim that in itself it does not have historic significance. Emphasis is placed upon the experience of Christ in the believer rather than in the fact of the empty tomb. The answer to all problems is found in the complete revelation of the Scriptures themselves which, if accepted in the normal meaning of words, establishes the orthodox position concerning the resurrection as a proof of His person and His offices and at the same time demonstrates that the resurrection of Christ is the key to all of His present work as well as the consummation of the divine plan in the prophetic future. For the present discussion, only the major facts can be itemized.
The resurrection a proof of the person of Christ. It is significant that the meaning of the three official names of Christ, namely, Lord Jesus Christ, is substantiated by His resurrection from the dead. The title of “Lord,” usually regarded as a declaration of His deity and authority over all creation is based on the assumption that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Though in His life He offered many substantiating evidences, the supreme proof of His deity is the solid fact of His resurrection. It was this argument which Peter used in His Pentecostal sermon when he declared on the basis of the fact of His resurrection that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter uses the same argument of the resurrection of Christ in his presentation of the gospel to Cornelius (Acts 10:40). In the introduction to the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul states that Christ “was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” The early disciples considered the resurrection of Christ as the final and convincing evidence that Jesus was all that He claimed to be, the very Son of God who existing from all eternity had become incarnate to fulfill the plan of God in His life, death, and resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is, therefore, an important proof of His deity and has been so regarded by orthodox scholars from apostolic days to the present.
In the title “Christ” as attributed to the Lord Jesus is embodied the hope of Israel for a Messiah to deliver them from their sins. Though the death and resurrection of Christ was anticipated by Old Testament prophecies, Jewish leaders in the time of Christ did not realize the necessity of it to fulfill His role of Messiah to Israel. It was only by His death that He could provide redemption and claim victory over Satan, and it was in His resurrection that He demonstrated the power of God which was to be ultimately manifested in the deliverance of Israel and the establishment of His righteous kingdom in the earth. The promise to David that He would have a son who would reign forever is now made possible of fulfillment by Christ in His resurrection body and is in keeping with the claim of Christ that He was the Messiah of Israel (John 4:25-26). The specific relationship of resurrection to His Messianic character is also revealed in His conversation with Martha in John 11:25-27. In a word, it was necessary for Christ to die and to be raised from the dead in order to be what the prophet had anticipated, a Messiah who would be Israel’s deliverer and Savior throughout all eternity. If Christ had not been raised from the dead, it is evident that His claim to Messiahship would have been thus destroyed and conversely the fact of His resurrection establishes His right to be Israel’s Messiah in the past as well as in the future.
“Jesus,” the third title attributed to Christ, meaning “Jehovah saves,” was His human name bestowed by the angel. He was given this name because He would “save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). His work as Savior, however, while inevitably related to His death on the cross, demanded also His resurrection. It was for this reason that Christ was commanded not only to die but to rise from the dead in John 10:17-18. According to John 12:27, where Christ prayed in regard to His death, “Father, save me from this hour,” He did not anticipate merely deliverance from death but prayed that if it were necessary to die, He would experience complete deliverance in His resurrection.
Milligan notes that the Greek is literally “save me out of this hour” (italics added). Milligan adds: “Our Lord prayed not merely that, if possible, He might escape suffering, but that, if it was impossible for Him to escape it, He might pass through it to a glorious deliverance,—that through death He might be conducted to that life beyond death in which the purpose of His coming was to be reached.”3 It is the uniform presentation of Scripture that His resurrection is a necessary counterpart to His work in death, and apart from His resurrection His death would have become meaningless (John 11:25; Rom 5:10; 8:34 ; 10:9 ; Phil 2:9, 11; Heb 5:7). The resurrection of Christ is, therefore, the proof of His person and of that which His person affected, namely His work on the cross.
The resurrection a proof of His offices. The three offices of Christ, that of prophet, priest, and king are each related to His resurrection. The offices of Christ are one of the major themes of the Old Testament as they relate to Christ. Moses anticipated Christ’s office as a prophet inDeuteronomy 18:18. The priestly office of Christ is prophesied in Psalm 110:4 4 and His kingly office is in fulfillment of the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:16 (cf. Luke 1:31-33).
The prophetic ministry of Christ, though largely fulfilled on earth prior to His death, needed the authentication of His resurrection to give authority to what He had already said as well as His continued ministry through the Spirit whom He would send (John 16:12-14). If Christ had not been raised from the dead, He would have been a false prophet and all of His ministry as recorded in the Gospels would have been subject to question. In like manner, His postresurrection ministry, bringing into climax much that He had taught before, would have been impossible apart from His bodily resurrection. The resurrection, therefore, constitutes a proof of the validity and authority of His prophetic office.
The resurrection of Christ is clearly related to that of His continuance of a priest. This was anticipated in Psalm 110 where Christ is declared to be a priest eternal in character, “Jehovah hath sworn, and will not repent; Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). The concept of Christ as a priest who continues to live forever is further substantiated inHebrews 7:25 where it is said of Christ, “He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” In contrast to ordinary priests, who have their priestly office terminated either by death or retirement as in the Levitical order, the resurrection of Christ made possible His continuance forever as our high priest. This is the teaching of the New Testament as well as the anticipation of the Old. Hebrews 7:24 states it explicitly: “But he, because he abideth for ever, hath his priesthood unchangeable.” It is evident from the Scriptures, that apart from the resurrection of Christ, His office of priest would not have been capable of being fulfilled.
The third office, that of king, fulfilled especially the anticipation of the Old Testament of a Son who would have the right to rule. Christ was not only to rule over Israel, fulfilling the promise to David of a son who would reign forever, but over the entire world as the one to whom God has given the right to rule over the nations (Ps 2:8-9). Christ’s continuance on the throne forever after His death, in fulfillment of the plan of God that He should reign over all nations as well as the nation of Israel, would have been impossible if He had not been raised from the dead. His resurrection was essential to His unique fulfillment of each of His divine offices.
1. Floyd V. Filson, Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, p. 49.
2. James Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, pp. 14 ff.
3. William Milligan, The Resurrection of Our Lord, p. 125.