THE NATURE OF THE RESURRECTION

PMW 2019-046 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

The Scripture teaches that Christ arises from the dead in the same body in which he dies, though with certain super-added spiritual powers.1 His resurrection does not merely revivify a lifeless cadaver; but neither is it the creation of a new body. Just as he prophesies, the very body which dies also comes forth from the tomb (Jn 2:19, 22). As such, it miraculously attests the truth of his divine mission on earth (Jn 2:18–21; cp. Mt 12:39–41; 16:1–4; Lk 11:29.

This is why the tomb and burial clothing are empty: his physical body departs from them (Mt 28:6; Jn 20:4–11, 15). After the resurrection the Gospels show Christ in a material body that people can touch and handle (Lk 24:39), and which still has the wounds of the cross (Jn 20:27; cf. Rev 5:6). On other occasions he bids Mary Magdalene to quit clinging (haptomai) to him (Jn 20:17). The women who meet the Lord later “held [krateo] him by the feet, and worshiped” (Mt 28:9). He even eats food, while in his resurrection body (Lk 24:42–43; Jn 21:11–14). The record of his friends not recognizing him is due either to their vision being distorted by tears (Jn 20:11–16) or by supernatural intervention (Lk 24:16), not by a radical morphological change.


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Likewise is it with the final resurrection. The general resurrection raises the body (Job 19:23–27; Isa 26:19; 1Th 4:16), which is why it occurs at the place of burial (Da 12:2; Jn 5:28).2 Scripture calls Christ “the first fruits of them that slept” (1Co 15:23) and “the firstborn of the dead” (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5; cf. Ro 8:29). Yet we know that others physically arose from the dead prior to him, some during his own ministry (1Ki 17:17–23; 2Ki 4:24–37; Mt 27:52; Heb 11:35). We should also see Christ’s miracles in Mt 9:18–26; 10:8; Mk 5:22–23, 35–42; Lk 7:12–15; and Jn 11:14–44.

Thus, Christ’s resurrection is of a different order, an order making him a “first” in that respect. That difference distinguishes his resurrection as eschatological: unlike other resurrections (miraculous revivifications), his body possesses elevated powers of the Spirit that would render it incapable of dissolution (1Co 15:28, 41–42), thus suited for the eternal order (see response to hyper-preterists below for more information).3


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The future, consummate physical resurrection prepares us for our eternal existence in the New Earth, which is established at Christ’s future return. This is taught in Matt. 25:14–30, as argued by D. A. Carson, J. R. Middleton, Jeffrey A. Gibbs, and others. God created us with physical bodies, not as immaterial angels (Gen. 2:7). Thus, our “natural” estate is corporeal; consequently, our final estate will be corporeal, though forever separated from sin. Christ sanctified the physical estate when he himself became incarnate and when he returned to his physical body at his resurrection.


Notes
1. Tragically, there is a renewed debate among evangelicals as to whether “Christ arose from the dead in the same material body of flesh and bones in which He died.” Stackhouse, “Evangelical Fratricide,” 64–66. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection (1991). Harris, From Grave to Glory (1990). Pinnock, “Toward an Evangelical Theology of Religions” (Sept. 1990). See also the liberal international “Jesus Seminar” conducted in the first half of the 1990s

2. Although Da 12:2 seems to be presenting a metaphor regarding Israel’s resurrection, it bases it on the concept of a physical resurrection.

3. For some of the unusual functions of his resurrected body, see: Lk 24:31ff; Jn 20:13ff; 21:7; Ac 1:9–11. For discussions of this concept see: Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption, passim. Vos, Pauline Eschatology, ch. 8. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, 478–85.

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