Objections to Jesus' physical resurrection answered

by Matt Slick

Even though the Bible teaches us that Jesus rose from the dead in the same body in which He died and that His resurrected body was a glorified body, people still resist accepting this truth--to their detriment.  Various objections are raised against such biblical support as . . .

  • "Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  20 The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body." (John 2:19-21).
  • "When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."  20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side.  The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord." (John 20:19-20).
  • "And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  39 "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." (Luke 24:38-39).

It seems clear that Jesus' physical resurrection is a reality.  Unfortunately, objections to it have been raised.

Objection 1:  Jesus was put to death physically but was raised spiritually according to 1 Pet. 3:18.
1 Pet. 3:18 is often used as a counter John 2:19-21.  Instead of harmonizing the Scriptures, some people use one scripture to "refute" another or to justify their interpretations which seem to favor their positions. Such is the case with 1 Pet. 3:18:

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." (1 Pet. 3:18).

The point that they try to make in this verse is that Jesus did not rise in the flesh but "in the spirit."  Some even say that Jesus ceased to exist and then was made alive" in the spirit.  However, because Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14), His spirit is immortal and does not need to be made alive.  Nevertheless, they assert that Jesus was not speaking literally in John 2:19-21, otherwise it would contradict their doctrine that Jesus did not rise physically.  Of course, they are incorrect.  Here is why.

Let's look at the context of 1 Pet. 3:18.  Here is 1 Pet. 3:17-20,

"For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.  18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water." (1 Pet. 3:17-20).

We must acknowledge right away that these verses have different interpretations among scholars.  It says Jesus was in the spirit when He went and made proclamation.  But what does that mean?  Did Jesus, between the time of his death and resurrection, go and make a proclamation to spirits in prison, or was it after His resurrection?  Also, the Greek word used is "proclaim" (karuso) not "preach" (evangelizo), so it was not a message of salvation to those spirits in prison.  Also, who are the spirits--angels or men?  In the spirit realm, angels are said to be in prison (Rev. 20:7; 2 Pet. 2:4) but never people.  What was the proclamation?  Most probably, it was the proclamation of Christ's victory at the cross, according to scripture, which was proclaimed to spirits of old who were disobedient in the time of Noah and who were being held in bonds  (See also, 2 Pet. 2:4-5).

In my opinion, between His death and resurrection, Jesus went and made a proclamation of His victory on the cross to those fallen angels who were being held in prison.  But since there is no definitive answer on this, I am open to further discussion on it.

Verse 18 does not require the interpretation that Jesus did not rise physically.  In fact, logically speaking, if we held to the "spirit only" idea of His resurrection, we would have a contradiction with other verses in the Bible, namely, John 2:19-21 and Luke 24:39 cited above.  Since John 2:19 clearly teaches that the temple of Christ's body was raised, 1 Pet. 3:18, which has different interpretations among scholars, it cannot be held in a way that would contradict other, clearer scriptures such as John 2:19-21 and Luke 24:39.

Furthermore, different Bibles translate verse 18 differently.  Some say Jesus was "made alive by the Spirit" (KJV, NKJV, NIV, MLB) while others say " . . . made alive in the spirit" (NASB, NEB, RSV, JB, and the 1901 ASV).  It is certainly possible that Jesus was made alive by the Holy Spirit which is consistent with the Trinitarian aspect of Jesus' resurrection where God raised Jesus (1 Thess. 1:10), the Father raised Jesus (Gal. 1:1), and Jesus raised Himself (John 2:19-21), and the Holy Spirit was also involved in His resurrection (Rom. 8:11).  It is also accurate to say that Jesus was raised in the spirit in that His spiritual body, which is His physical glorified body, was quickened, made alive, became real as the first fruits of all creation (1 Cor. 15:20).

Finally, it is our bodies that are redeemed as well--not just our spirits.  "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." (Rom. 8:23).  The body here spoken of is the physical one--not a "spiritual" non-flesh body.

To summarize about this verse:  1 Pet. 3:18 does not say that Jesus was raised a spirit creature.  It says that He was "made alive in the spirit." What does that mean?  Quite simply, it means that Jesus was raised in an imperishable body. This is what 1 Cor. 15:35-45 says when it refers to the body as being sown perishable but raised imperishable, sown in dishonor and raised in glory, sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body, etc.  Jesus was the "Last Adam"--a life giving spirit.  Paul is typifying the resurrection body.  In this passage Paul is talking about the resurrection of all people.  All Christians will be raised in physical bodies.  It was the same with Jesus.

Objection 2:  The Bible says that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50); therefore, Jesus could not have been raised from the dead in the same body in which He died.

The problem with this objection is that it fails to recognize the fact that after the resurrection, Jesus said, "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" (Luke 24:39)--not "flesh and blood."  This is not simply a play on words.  Every word in the Bible is inspired, and this phrase was used by Jesus on purpose.

The term "flesh and blood" is a phrase used in scripture in different contexts but denotes the natural order.

  • "And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 16:17).
  • "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph. 6:12).
  • "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil," (Heb. 2:14).

Jesus had shed His blood on the cross.  It quite literally had drained out of His body.  We see that when Jesus rose from the dead, He still had the holes in His hands and feet (Luke 24:39).  Since He retained the characteristics of His bodily ordeal, it is logical to state that His blood, which was literally drained from His body, was likewise still shed.  Therefore, His body could be raised, and the blood remained shed as the thing that "makes atonement": "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement." (Lev. 17:11).

That is why after the resurrection, to prove that He had risen in the same body He died in, Jesus told people to touch His hands and feet because it was the hands and feet that had the holes in them.  What more proof do you need to but see and touch the very same hands and feet that had the holes in them from the nails on the cross!  Furthermore, in the same statement Jesus said that He possessed flesh and bones--not flesh and blood.  He had risen!

Objection 3:  The sacrificial offering was the body of Christ, therefore, it could not rise lest the sacrifice be made invalid by "being taken back."

The answer to this objection is similar to the one above.  Jesus' resurrection is the proof that His sacrifice was accepted by the Father who had promised, "For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay." (Psalm 16:10).  Because Jesus offered a perfect sacrifice for sin, He was guaranteed a physical resurrection.  You see, physical death is the result of sin.  But, Jesus successfully took care of the sin problem; and, in the process, conquered death which is the result of sin (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:56).  The proof is found in the fact that He rose from the dead in the same body He died in.

Furthermore, the truth is that Jesus bore our sins in His body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and took our place (2 Cor. 5:21).  His body was used as the means to shed the blood that cleanses of sin.

  • "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement." (Lev. 17:11).
  • "And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Heb. 9:22).

So, the blood of Christ is what removes our sin, and the physical resurrection of Christ is proof that the sacrifice was accepted by the Father.

Objection 4:  Jesus manifested different physical forms in order to convince the disciples that He had been raised.

This is faulty for several reasons.  First, it would mean that Jesus was tricking His disciples into believing that His body had been raised when it hadn’t.  Second, it disregards the clear teaching of Jesus Himself who said His very body would be raised:  "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body." (John 2:19-21).  Jesus said that His body would be raised.  Third, 1 Tim. 2:5 says, "For there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus."  Jesus is said to be a man.  If He was not raised physically, then how could he be a man without a body of flesh and bones?

Objection 5:  The Father raised Jesus; He didn't do it Himself, therefore John 2:19-21 cannot be literal because Jesus didn't raise Himself.

This objection simply fails to take into account the Trinitarian nature of God and the resurrection.  We see that each of the members of the Godhead was involved in the resurrection of Christ.

  • Father --"Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)," (Gal. 1:1).
  • Son --"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body." (John 2:19-21).
  • The Holy Spirit--"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you." (Rom. 8:11).

Likewise for further clarification, we see that other Trinitarian aspects are observed throughout scripture on different subjects: Each is called God; Father (Phil. 1:2), the Son (John 1:1, 14; Col. 2:9) and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4).  Each is the Creator; Father (Isaiah 64:8; 44:24), the Son (John 1:3; Col. 1:15-17), and the Holy Spirit (Job 33:4; 26:13).  Each indwells; Father (2 Cor. 6:16), the Son (Col. 1:27), and the Holy Spirit (John 14:17) . . . etc.

When looking at the whole of scripture, we see no contradiction dealing with Jesus' resurrection.  Instead, we see an affirmation of the truth that Jesus did, in fact, raise His body just as He said He would in John 2:19-21.

 

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