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QUESTION: "Was Jesus raised as a spirit after He died or was He bodily raised from the dead?"

"Christ was not raised in a fleshly body. His old earthly body that died on the cross was no more. In fact, the Bible says that ‘the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’ (1 Cor. 15:45). The Scriptures also say that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (v. 50). Therefore, Jesus must have been raised as a spirit person after He died on the cross."

ANSWER:

The classic view of the so-called "Jehovah’s Witnesses" is that Jesus is a "spirit" at present and that he has a "spiritual body." One of their official writings states: "Jesus was raised to life as an invisible spirit. He did not take up again that body in which he had been killed as a human sacrifice to God" (Let Your Name Be Sanctified, p. 266). Further, Jesus "was not raised out of the grave a human creature, but he was raised a spirit" (Let God Be True, p. 272). Again, "This firstborn from the dead was raised from the grave, not a human creature, but a spirit" (p. 276).

Since the Witnesses do believe that Jesus was merely a "human creature" during His earthly life, they believe that when he died, He ceased to exist. They assert: "It is clearly seen that even the man Christ Jesus was mortal. He did not have an immortal soul: Jesus, the human soul, died"(Let God Be True, p. 71). What do they mean by Christ’s death? "At death man’s spirit, his life-force, which is sustained by breathing, ‘goes out.’ It no longer exists. . . . When they are dead, both humans and animals are in this same state of complete unconsciousness. . . . That the soul lives on after death is a lie started by the Devil"(You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, p. 77). When Jesus died, therefore, what was His state? "The human soul ceases to exist at death" (Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Twentieth Century). Jesus ceased to exist when He died!

Witnesses also teach that Jesus is no longer a man. You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth states, "Having given up his flesh for the life of the world, Christ could never take it gain and become a man once more" (p. 143). The Witnesses seem firm in this conviction that Jesus is not a man and not human (while also denying that he is deity): "Jehovah God raised him from the dead, not as a human Son, but as a mighty immortal spirit Son. . . . For forty days after that he materialized, as angels before him had done, to show himself alive to his disciples" (Let God Be True, p. 40). The angels, of course, never became flesh and blood as Jesus did through the virgin conception. They were merely spirit creatures who materialized on occasion to do God’s will (cf. Heb. 1:14). Witnesses think that Jesus’ appearances are similar: "Usually they could not at first tell it was Jesus, for he appeared in different bodies. He appeared and disappeared just as angels had done, because he was resurrected as a spirit creature. Only because Thomas would not believe did Jesus appear in a body like that in which he had died" (From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, p. 144). Did Jesus appear in the same body—or only in a body "like" that which had died?

What happened to Christ’s body after it was buried? The Witnesses answer: "Jehovah saw fit to remove Jesus’ body, even as he had done before with Moses’ body. (Deuteronomy 34:5, 6) Also, if the body had been left in the tomb, Jesus’ disciples could not have understood that he had been raised from the dead, since at that time they did not fully appreciate spiritual things" (p. 144). In other words, if God had left Jesus’ dead body in the tomb, the disciples would have been tempted to believe that Jesus had not been raised from the dead! The teaching of Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Witness movement, speculated further: "Our Lord’s human body . . . did not decay or corrupt. . . . Whether it was dissolved into gases or whether it is still preserved somewhere . . . no one knows" (Studies in the Scriptures, 2:129).

Not only was Jesus’ human body not resurrected, according to the Witnesses, but "Jesus did not take his human body to heaven to be forever a man in heaven" (Let God Be True, p. 41). You are reading exactly what the Witnesses believe: Jesus’ human body was not resurrected and did not ascend to heaven. One further quotation: "Having given up his flesh for the life of the world, Christ could never take it again and become a man once more. For that basic reason his return could never be in the human body that he sacrificed once for all time" (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, p. 143).

From these quotations, we can learn something of the teaching of the so-called "Jehovah’s Witnesses" regarding the resurrection and related matters:

  • Jesus was a man on earth who ceased to exist when He died.
  • Jesus was no longer a man, no longer a human being, after His so-called resurrection.
  • The body of Jesus (the body in which He lived and died) was not resurrected but God "removed" the body as He did Moses’ body.
  • Jesus did not appear in the same body in which He died.
  • Jesus did not ascend to heaven in his human body.
  • Jesus is now merely a "spirit" and has a "spirit" body.
  • Jesus’ appearances are similar to appearances of angels.

We believe that these points fairly represent the Witness teaching about Jesus’ so-called resurrection from the dead. We say "so-called" since it is clear that they do not really believe in Christ’s resurrection, but in a form of re-creation. They believe that Jesus ceased to exist for three days and his human body was disposed of in some manner, after which He was re-created and came forth as a spirit who would materialize and appear to various ones, not as a man but as a spirit who was a god. What does Scripture say about these teachings?

Notice some of the truths of Scripture:

First, Jesus was raised with a glorified physical body. The Lord appeared to His disciples on the night of the resurrection and invited them with these words: "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39). Jesus’ resurrection body had "flesh" and "bones" and He specifically said that He was not a "spirit." He proved the nature of His body by asking, "Have you anything here to eat?" The record then states: "They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them" (vv. 41-43). When Peter preached to the household of Cornelius, he said that Jesus had appeared to chosen witnesses "who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead" (Acts 10:41) (See also Luke 24:30; John 21:12,13.) Christ’s resurrection body was capable of physical functions, although apparently not needing physical sustenance.

Our Lord had a body that could be touched and handled. When He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the Garden, this devoted woman touched Him and He replied, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father"(John 20:17). When the women were on their way to tell the disciples about the empty tomb, Jesus met them on the way. The record says that "they came up and took hold of His feet and worshipped Him" (Matt. 28:9). John the apostle says, "We have looked at and touched with our hands" (1 John 1:1). Christ’s body was not immaterial. While this glorified body could appear and disappear at will (cf. Luke 24:31, 36; John 20:19, 26), when Jesus did appear, His body could be seen, felt, and touched.

Second, Jesus appeared in the same body in which He died. God did not have to recreate His body; He simply resurrected the same body. The description of the resurrection scene makes it clear that Christ’s own body that had been wrapped in the burial clothes had been raised to life (cf. Luke 24:12; John 20:4-9). Paul refers to "the body of His glory" (Phil. 3:21), but this glorified body was still Christ’s body, the body that was crucified for our sins. When Jesus cleansed the temple at the beginning of His ministry, He affirmed, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). John then explains, "He was speaking of the temple of His body" (v. 21). Jesus, in effect, says that if the Jews "destroy" the temple of His body through crucifixion, He will raise "it" (His body) up. He will resurrect His body from the grave! He makes a similar argument at John 10:17-18. The very body that Jesus offered up for our sins would be laid in a tomb and would come forth from that tomb as a resurrected, glorified body. The idea that God "removed" Jesus’ body from the tomb and disposed of it or the idea that Jesus’ body "dissolved into gasses" or is "preserved" somewhere on earth is a clear denial of the bodily resurrection of the Son of God!

It is clear that Jesus’ appeared in the same body in which He died. He told Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing"(John 20:27; cf. vv. 24-26; Luke 24:39). The apostles saw the very wound marks in Jesus’ body—testifying to the fact that Jesus Himself was standing before them with the same body in which He died. John the apostle later wrote of "what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life" (1 John 1:1). Jesus was no mere spiritual, immaterial being, but could show His disciples His bodily wounds.

Third, Jesus was raised as a man. It is quite clear that Jesus continues to be a man, a human being (while also existing as deity). Paul says, "There is one God, and one mediator also between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus is called "the second man" (1 Cor. 15:47). He further says, "Since by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Christ] also came the resurrection of the dead" (15:21). In vision, John the apostle saw "one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet," an obvious reference to Christ Jesus (Rev. 1:13). The Lord Jesus was born as a man and will continue as a man through all eternity. The does not deny the fact that He "was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4).

Fourth, Jesus ascended to heaven in His resurrection body. Not only did Jesus rise from the dead in the same crucified body, but He ascended to the Father in heaven with that same glorified body. Luke says that Jesus led His disciples as far as Bethany, and "He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven" (24:50-51; cf. Mark 16:19). The same scene is given in Acts 1. After Jesus spoke to them, "He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (v. 9). The same Jesus, in bodily form, will one day return for His own. The angels told the disciples, "This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven" (v. 11). Christ was resurrected in a glorified human body, He ascended to heaven with that same body, and He will return one day with the same glorified body!

Fifth, Jesus no longer has a mortal, perishable, earthly body. Paul speaks about the resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15 and points out that just as Christ rose from the dead, so we will rise from the dead. "Now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep" (v. 20). The apostle compares the pre-resurrection body with the post-resurrection body in this way:

Pre-Resurrection Body

Post-Resurrection Body

Earthly body (vv. 40, 47, 48, 49) Heavenly body (vv. 40, 47, 48, 49)
Perishable body (vv. 42, 53, 54) Imperishable body (vv. 42, 52, 53, 54)
Body of dishonor (v. 43) Body of glory (v. 43)
Body of weakness (v. 43) Body of power (v. 43)
Natural body (vv. 44, 46) Spiritual body (vv. 44, 46)
Mortal body (vv. 53, 54) Immortal body (vv. 53, 54)

With this in mind we should understand the statement that "the last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45). As spirit, Jesus also had a body, a body of glory (Phil. 3:21). The "spiritual body" that Christ had when He was raised from death and the spiritual body that we will have at the resurrection is not an immaterial body, but a body that is no longer subject to death and decay (1 Cor. 15:44). Further, when Paul says that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50), He must mean that that which is mortal, earthly, and perishable cannot inherit God’s kingdom. "Flesh and blood" can simply mean mortal man, as a comparison with Jesus’ words at Matthew 16:17 reveals: "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." Therefore, mortal man cannot inherit God’s kingdom—but man, resurrected with an immortal body, can enter His kingdom. 1 Corinthians 15:50b bears out this understanding. After saying that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, Paul says, "nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." In other words, "flesh and blood" stands for the "perishable" and the kingdom of God stands for the "imperishable." Our perishable bodies will not inherit God’s kingdom, but we will have resurrected, glorified, immortal, spiritual, and heavenly bodies that will inherit God’s kingdom. It is significant that the idea of a "spiritual" body (1 Cor. 15:44) does not necessarily mean an immaterial or invisible body any more than one who is "spiritual" now is in an immaterial form and invisible to our sight (1 Cor. 2:15).

How important is Christ’s Resurrection?

While some people may simply dismiss this question as inconsequential, Scripture says that Christ’s resurrection is essential for our eternal salvation. Paul declared, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation"(Rom. 10:9-10). Did God raise Jesus from the dead? Yes. In order to be saved from our sins, we must believe in this fundamental fact of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-11). If Christ did not literally rise from the dead, we are hopeless: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17; cf. vv. 12-22). If Jesus’ body merely dissolved into gasses or if God simply "removed" His body to some unknown location on earth, we will perish in our sins!

Let us we willing to "exhort in sound doctrine" and "refute those who contradict" this sound doctrine concerning the resurrection of Christ Jesus (Titus 1:9). Let us not only believe that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, but also believe that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This is the only faith that saves.

Richard Hollerman