Does it bother you when you watch a new movie about Jesus’ life (or, even an old one) and the movie just falls flat when it comes to the resurrection appearances of Jesus? Sometimes, they are skipped altogether, other times portrayed as some kind of “voice heard only” type of thing. With all the phenomenal capability of Hollywood special effects, it seems that filmmakers could do (and would want to do) a fantastic job of portraying Jesus in his resurrected body and his real interactions with all those real people (500+) for 40 days (1 Cor. 15:3-8).
Come on. This culture is wild about the supernatural, sci-fi and fantasy fiction. Yet, the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest real supernatural event in human history. God raised his Son from the dead and gave him a new physical body that would never die again. Different from his friend Lazarus (John 11:38-44) who would experience death once again. So, why do we as a culture have difficulty believing that Jesus’ dead body was resurrected into an immortal but completely physical body that walked, talked, ate, drank, and could be touched as any human body could do? I think it is because we don’t really understand the true meaning of the resurrection and why Jesus had to rise from the dead.
Do you know why Jesus had to rise from the dead? Wasn’t the cross enough? Why is the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ essential to our faith? Couldn’t it have been some spiritual thing instead?
After 2000 years of Christians celebrating this human-history-changing event at Easter, many do not know the answer to these questions—perhaps because so much of our teaching centers on the cross and our sin problem. That’s only half the story, though. Understanding the true meaning of the resurrection gives us a proper view towards being human, towards life after death, and even towards our present purpose on this earth.
What Jesus’ Resurrection Means
Several years ago, I read The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright, an insightful book that helped me to understand what the resurrection meant to those living 2000 years ago and for us today. I first learned what the resurrection did not mean.
- The resurrection was not meant to prove life after death. Nearly everyone in the Roman world of Jesus’ day believed in some form of post-death existence—the soul living on after the body died. Just like today.
- The resurrection was not the appearance of Jesus’ spirit or ghost. Even though the gospels clearly say this, people persist in viewing the event as somehow ghostly rather than physical. The term “resurrection” in that day and time meant receiving a new physical body after a time of death, never a way of talking about a ghost or spirit. That’s why it was so offensive to the Greek-influenced mind. To them, the body was evil; why would we ever want a new body?
- The resurrection does not directly prove that Jesus is God. The Jews expected the resurrection of all the righteous before the kingdom was established; that wouldn’t prove that they were God. Jesus did not become the “Son of God” at the resurrection. But, the resurrection declared that what he did in his life and in his death was the work of God’s Son.
Eliminating those ideas leads us to what the resurrection does mean:
- The resurrection announced the beginning of the kingdom (Daniel 12:2-3; Isaiah 26:19; John 5:28-29). They just didn’t know that it would be a two-stage process—first, the Messiah resurrected, then later everyone else.
- The resurrection is also God’s solution to man’s state of spiritual death. Human beings had 2 problems. The first problem—a sickness called sin, which caused the second problem—death, physical death and spiritual separation from God. Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s solution to the sickness—sin. Jesus had to physically die because physical death was the penalty for sin (Romans 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-23). The resurrection declares that the debt for sin has been paid and accepted (Col 2:13-14). The sickness has a cure. What about the death problem?
God’s solution to man’s spiritual death is to restore life to him/her. That’s called regeneration. Believers receive life. We are cleansed and made new creations when God plants his Spirit within us. Jesus completely identified with us in our humanity, our sin and our death, so that we could be totally identified with him in his resurrected humanity, his righteousness and his life.
The empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus together are powerful evidence of the fact. When the early Christian spoke of Jesus being raised from the dead, they were claiming that something happened to Jesus, which had happened to no one else — ever!
Jesus’s Resurrection Body
Jesus’ body was the same but different. I’ve heard it called “transphysical,” meaning transformed physicality. Since we get a similar body, I wanted to look at this more closely.
What was the same?
- He looked like a normal human being (not glowing).
- He talked, walked and preached a sermon at the same time, and had memory.
- He invited his followers to touch him and see that he was real, referred to himself as having flesh and blood, used his hands to break bread, and ate broiled fish.
- He could be grasped or touched (John 20:17; Matt.28:9)
What was different?
- Sometimes it was hard to recognize him. Perhaps his new body was created to appear the ideal age for a man—whatever that might have been for Adam. The perfect 25 year old! That would have changed his looks considering he died as a 30-something. The scars on his hands, side and feet were obvious means ofidentification.
- Jesus could appear and disappear at will. His body passed through grave clothes, a rocky tomb, and walls where the disciples were meeting behind locked doors. It’s as though there is another dimension we don’t see that exists alongside the one we do see. That would explain several things in the Bible.
- His body was physically robust. After all, he walked and preached a sermon for a good part of the 7 miles to Emmaus two days after he was severely beaten and crucified!
Jesus ascended to heaven in his new physical body to reign from heaven as God-man UNTIL he returns (Acts 1:9-11).
Jesus’ Resurrection and Life in the UNTIL Time
Understanding the true meaning of the resurrection gives us a proper view towards life now (UNTIL he returns or I go to heaven before then). We get a proper view towards:
- Being human. When God made a new body for Jesus, he didn’t choose a spotted owl or a whale or some alien life form. He created another human body. That tells me something about being human. The pagan view was that the body is evil, and the soul is good. But God’s view is that the problem was not the body itself which he had purposefully designed, but sin and death which had taken up residence in it. Being an embodied human is good; what is bad is being a rebellious, decaying human, because of sin and death. How do you view the body God gave you? You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14-16).
- Facing death. You can be confident that when you as a believer die, you go immediately to be with Jesus. And, you can enjoy all the blessings of being there. We have the hope of reunion with loved ones and receiving a new physical body with a wonderful new life to enjoy forever.
- Having a purpose on this earth. God has given us new life here by design. He didn’t take us to heaven right away. We have a purpose here. We are here by God’s design to follow Jesus as his disciples and to live for him as disciplemakers —intentionally sharing our faith with others, leading them to Christ, and helping them grow in their faith so they can reach their peers for Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). We do that through his power in us—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in human history. Life-changing. Life-giving. And, this same Jesus is in his physical human body in heaven waiting for us to join him some day for a life in a new physical body that far exceeds anything we have ever known here. That’s HOPE!
Read or listen to “Resurrection…What Does It Really Mean?“
Graceful Living Bible Study (read online)
Graceful Living Bible Study (download pdf)