Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Physical Resurrection? Part 1

Some skeptics of orthodox Christianity argue that the New Testament writers never meant to communicate that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Instead, Jesus rose in a spiritual and immaterial sense. But can this point of view be defended from Scripture? Theologian Norman Geisler does not think so. He presents his case in the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics :

Jesus Was Touched by Human Hands. Jesus challenged Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side’ (John 20:27). Thomas responded, ‘My Lord and My God!’ (vs. 28). Likewise, when Mary clung to Jesus after his resurrection he commanded, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father’ (John 20:17). Matthew adds that the women clasped Jesus’ feet and worshiped him (Matt. 28:9). Later, when Jesus appeared to the ten disciples he said, ‘look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see’ (Luke 24:39). Jesus’ resurrection body was a physical body that could be touched, including the nail and spear prints.

Jesus’ Body Had Flesh and Bones. Perhaps the strongest evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body is that Jesus said emphatically ‘Touch me and see; a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have’ (Luke 24:39). Then to prove his point he asked for something to eat and ‘They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence’ (vss. 41–42).

Paul correctly noted that corruptible ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 15:50), but Jesus did not have corruptible flesh; he was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). He was fleshy but not fleshly. He did not have sinful human flesh (Heb. 4:15); nevertheless, he died and rose from the dead in actual human flesh (sarx, Acts 2:31). John stressed Jesus’ continuing incarnation in flesh, when he warned: ‘Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming [and remaining] in the flesh, have gone out into the world’ (2 John 7). The use of the present participle in Greek means Christ remained in the flesh even while this was written. The claim that it was physical flesh before the resurrection but non-physical flesh after is a form of Gnosticism or docetism.

Jesus Ate Physical Food. Another evidence Jesus offered of the physical, tangible nature of his resurrection body was the ability to eat, which he did on at least four occasions (Luke 24:30, 41–43; John 21:12–13; Acts 1:4). Acts 10:40 indicates that Jesus ate often with the disciples after his resurrection, speaking of the apostles who ‘ate and drank with him after he arose from the dead.’

Unlike angels, Jesus’ resurrection body was material by nature (Luke 24:39). Given this context, it would have been sheer deception by Jesus to have shown his flesh and bones and offered his ability to eat physical food as proof of his physical body, if he had not been resurrected in a physical body.

Jesus’ Body Has His Wounds. Another unmistakable evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body was that it possessed the physical wounds from Jesus’ crucifixion. No so-called ‘spiritual’ or immaterial body would have physical scars (John 20:27). Indeed, in this same physical body Jesus ascended into heaven where he is still seen as ‘a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain’ (Rev. 5:6). And when Christ returns, it will be ‘this same Jesus, who has been taken away from you into heaven’ (Acts 1:11). These same physical scars of his crucifixion will be visible at his second coming, for John declared: ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’ (Rev. 1:7).

Geisler continues his analysis in part 2.