In truth we do not know how Jesus entered a room with locked doors but there is good biblical evidence and ecumenical Christian truth to make us reject the “celestial flesh” Star Trek Christology. If anything changed, why not the door? After all, our Lord walked on water without changing his true humanity. That was a defiance of what we know in the ordinary providence of God. He still the waves. He raised Lazarus from the dead. He healed the lame and restored sight to the blind. During his earthly ministry, our Lord regularly defied or suspended what we ordinarily think of as nature. What is a locked door to the Lord of Glory?
The Reformed churches and theologians opposed the Anabaptists on a number of issues beyond the most obvious question, namely baptism, one of which was a widely held view of Christ’s humanity which the Melchiorites (followers of Melchior Hoffmann), Menno, and others taught: the doctrine of the “celestial flesh” of Christ. Caspar Schwenkfeld (1489–1561) taught that we eat the “celestial flesh” of Christ by an inward spiritual feeding. Calvin traced this doctrine to the Manichees and Marcionites (Institutes 2.13.1). In the 3rd century, Tertullian, the father of Latin (Western) church opposed the doctrine of the celestial flesh in defense of the true humanity of Christ: “For One who was to be truly a man, even unto death, it was necessary that He should be clothed with that flesh to which death belongs. Now that flesh to which death belongs is preceded by birth.”1
In the Belgic Confession (1561) the Reformed churches denounced the “celestial flesh” Christology as heresy against the ecumenical faith:
Therefore we confess (in opposition to the heresy of the Anabaptists, who deny that Christ assumed human flesh of his mother) that Christ is become a partaker of the flesh and blood of the children; that he is a fruit of the loins of David after the flesh; made of the seed of David according to the flesh; a fruit of the womb of the Virgin Mary, made of a woman, a branch of David; a shoot of the root of Jesse; sprung from the tribe of Judah; descended from the Jews according to the flesh; of the seed of Abraham, since he took on him the seed of Abraham, and became like unto his brethren in all things, sin excepted, so that in truth he is our Immanuel, that is to say, God with us (art. 18).
The “celestial flesh” Christology did not die in the 16th century. It lives among American evangelicals. I hear it regularly and had a question about recently via Twitter. The question often comes in this form: How did Jesus enter the room with locked doors? The question is in reference to John 20:26–29:
26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (ESV).
What many American evangelicals seem to assume is that Jesus de-materialized and walked through the door and then re-materialized. It seems plausible because they have seen it on television and in films. There are some unstated and often unexamined assumptions in such a view and not a few biblical and theological problems.
First, the problems.
- The text neither says nor implies that Jesus’ de-materialized and re-materialized. What it says is that Jesus entered a room even though the doors were locked.
- Though many assume that the passage intends to teach that Jesus’ humanity was substantially changed by the resurrection, the passage itself is at pains to teach us the opposite.
- The “celestial flesh” Christology is the result of the confusion of the two natures, in contradiction both of Holy Scripture and the Definition of Chalcedon (451 AD).
- One of the most problematic of the un-stated assumptions is that we know Jesus’ humanity must have changed because we know that doors do not.
Second, some replies:
The scene occurs after the resurrection but (obviously) before the ascension. Jesus had a resurrection body, about which John comments implicitly in this very passage. John tell us that the disciples were “inside” (ἔσω). He uses a genitive absolute to tell us the circumstances in which Jesus entered the room, “with the doors being locked” (τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων). The mystery and the miracle is that Jesus entered a room with locked doors.
There are good reasons for thinking that Jesus’ humanity, though resurrected remains consubstantial with ours. Hebrews 2:17–18 connects Jesus’ consubstantiality to two aspects of our redemption: the propitiation of the divine wrath on the cross and his intercessory high-priestly ministry for us now.