Christians have built up an entire folk theology around the alleged discontinuity between Jesus’ body pre and post-resurrection. But the teaching of Scripture and Christian history places clear boundaries on our speculations. Jesus rose with a real human body. He still has it. Flesh and blood may not inherit the kingdom of God, but flesh and bones already have.
There’s a Christian truism we all grew up with that goes like this: Jesus walked through walls and locked doors after His resurrection, and this proves that His glorified body, and thus ours, will be fundamentally more like spirits or less physical than the bodies we currently have. There’s just one problem: This isn’t what Scripture actually says. And the idea that Jesus’ resurrection body behaved in some radically different way from His pre-resurrection body has become the basis of a lot of mixed up theology and eschatology.
Writer David Bentley Hart recently published a lengthy essay in which he uses this interpretation to argue that Jesus’ resurrected body was a sort of hard spirit, which entirely replaced His original body and had different properties alien to the inferior, temporal flesh we now possess. In resurrection, he writes, we will all “shed” our physical bodies, and be “transfigured into the sort of celestial bodies that now belong to the angels: incorruptible, immortal, purged of every element of flesh and blood and (perhaps) soul.”
Brian Mattson over at The Calvinist International pegs Hart’s view as a form of Gnosticism, and makes a compelling case that this resurrection-as-angelification was the view of an ancient heretical sect, not of the early church. Indeed, fathers like Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335-394) explicitly say that in our resurrection, every “identical individual particle” which composes our bodies at death must return to us, else our resurrection will not be resurrection but “the creation of a new man.” Gregory insists “the same man is to return to himself,” down to “every single atom of his elements.”
Pedantic objections from physics, chemistry, and cannibalism aside, the point is clear: These bodies of ours will not stay dead. In His mysterious and wonderful way, God is going to raise them to life, not as replacements for the old, but as mature and glorified forms of the old. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, our bodies are like seeds “sown imperishable…raised imperishable…sown in dishonor…raised in glory…”
Or as George Ferguson delightfully writes in, “Signs and Symbols in Christian Art,”the butterfly can also symbolize resurrection, since the caterpillar and winged adult are biologically continuous, mediated by the “death” of the crystalis/cocoon. In both metaphors, the organism that entered dormition was the same organism that emerged, not less solid or physical than its prior form, but beautified, magnified, and perfected. We will be more than we are now, not less.
This is Scripture’s teaching on resurrection. Obviously, the body with which Jesus entered the tomb was the same body with which He rose three days later. That’s why the tomb was empty. But Jesus’ resurrected body was…different, right? It was less solid, right? He passed through locked doors and walls, right? Let’s reexamine the text of John 20:19-20, where we get this account:
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20 ESV)
What we have here is Jesus entering a locked room, apparently miraculously. John says nothing of Him passing through doors or walls like Nearly Headless Nick. In fact, he gives no indication at all of how Jesus accomplished this feat. He simply reports it as a surprising and likely miraculous appearance, and then moves on to a tangible demonstration that the resurrected Jesus is no ghost, a demonstration which Luke amplifies in his account in Luke 24:36-42.