Did Jesus Rise Physically from the Dead?

Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Jehovah’s Witness takes the resurrection of Jesus to be non-physical. Jesus’ physical body did not rise; He only rose as a spirit being. Conversely, Christians hold that Jesus rose physically from the dead. Moreover, the same body that died on the cross is the same body that rose three days later, leaving an empty tomb.

To settle this issue, we need to go straight to the text of Scripture. Specifically, let’s examine two passages that explicitly affirm the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. John records a heated exchange between some of the Jewish leaders and Jesus: 

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body (John 2:18-21).

Read these words carefully. Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three day I will raise it up.” What were the Jews going to destroy? Jesus’ body. What was Jesus going to raise up after three days? His body. This is a clear admission from Jesus that His physical body would be resurrected.

Luke provides an even stronger testimony to the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. Ironically, this comes from the resurrected Jesus Himself.

And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet (Luke 24:38-40).

Here Jesus is explicitly pointing out that His resurrected body is not merely an immaterial spirit. First, He tells them it is I myself. He is belaboring the point that it is Jesus standing before them. Second, He tells them His resurrected body is made of flesh and bones. Jesus then provides two evidences for the disciples. The first evidence is that He presents to them His hands and feet to properly examine. He tells them to touch and see. 

The second evidence is in the following two verses. Luke writes, “And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them (Luke 24:41-43).” Did you catch that? Jesus demonstrates that His body is made of flesh and bones by eating a flesh and bones fish right in front of them. This seemingly trivial detail about Jesus eating lunch is incredibly significant to the question of the nature of Jesus’ body. It is not a coincidence that Luke includes this detail within the context of this story.

The Jehovah’s Witness go-to proof text for the non-physical resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. Here Paul is contrasting the earthly body with the resurrected body. The earthly body is perishable, dishonorable, weak, and natural. The resurrected body is imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. 

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body (Greek: psychikos); it is raised a spiritual body (Greek: pneumatikos). If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:42-44).

Your Jehovah’s Witness friend will say, “See, Paul describes our present, earthly body as “natural,” and our future, resurrected bodies as “spiritual.” However, they wrongly assume that natural and spiritual mean physical and nonphysical, respectively. The question is: What does Paul mean by the terms natural and spiritual?

Paul uses the exact same words earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “The natural person (psychikos) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person (pneumatikos) judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one (1 Cor. 2:14-15).”

Notice the natural person does not mean physical person, but rather a person oriented toward human nature or soul. In fact, psychikos, which is translated natural, literally means soul-ish. Similarly, spiritual person does not mean a non-physical, spirit person. Rather, it’s a person oriented toward the Spirit. Paul is contrasting soul-led persons with Spirit-led persons. The contrast is not one of physicality, but of orientation.

Therefore, Paul is explaining that the future resurrected body will be freed from slavery to the weak, mortal, dishonorable, sinful human nature. The resurrected body will be led, sustained, empowered, and made glorious by the Spirit. As Christians, we believe in a future, bodily, physical, spiritual resurrection, because this is what the New Testament teaches. 

quick thought |
Tim Barnett