.: DID JESUS RESURRECT FROM THE DEAD IN AN INVISIBLE SPIRIT-BODY? - Insight into the Watchtower View of Resurrection
SUMMARY OF CONTENTS:
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to believe in the “resurrection” of Jesus Christ, but their definition of resurrection differs from the historic Christian position that teaches that Jesus raised His human body of “flesh and bones.” Instead, the Watchtower Society claims that Jesus did not raise His physical human body, but rather an invisible spirit—the archangel Michael. They state:
Romans 10:9 articulates two requirements for salvation. The first is to confess “Jesus as Lord.” The second requirement is to believe that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” Similarly, the Apostle Paul summarizes the gospel at 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:
Paul not only states that one of the main tenants of the gospel is the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, but in verse 17, he goes on to say that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” For centuries, Christians have taught and defended the doctrine of the resurrection – teaching that Jesus physically rose in the same human body in which He died. Notice the correlation between the perishable human body and the imperishable resurrected body as described in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44:
The Greek term, “soma” for “body” is always used in Scripture to refer to physical nature. Likewise, the term “spiritual” is used in the Scripture to denote “supernatural” behavior—not a “spiritual” essence of being. Thus, the phrase “spiritual body” in the passage above speaks of a “physical supernatural” body—not a “spirit body.” Another example of the term “spiritual” referring to “supernatural” behavior is 1 Corinthians 2:15 where we read, “But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man.” The “spiritual” person in both of these passages is behaving in a “supernatural” way, not ontologically transforming “human” essence into “spirit” essence.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the first to deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. During the time of the Biblical apostles, the heretical movement of Gnosticism began to invade Christianity, and flourished in the second and third centuries. Gnosticism was an esoteric belief that promised deliverance from the material world which it viewed as completely evil. This deliverance would come through the revelation of secret “gnosis” (knowledge) of the divine, transcendent spiritual realm that only Gnostics possessed. Gnostic dualism taught that the spiritual nature was good and anything to do with the physical, material world was evil. Thus, Gnostics argued that Jesus could not have been wholly divine if He possessed a physical, human body.
In response to this heresy, John replied, “…every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” –1 John 4:2-3 He went on to say that “many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”—2 John 1:7
Likewise, Ignatius who lived from A.D. 35-107, defended the bodily resurrection of Christ. He had been a student of the Biblical Apostle John and was serving as the bishop of Antioch when convicted for his faith in Christ. On the way to his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius wrote seven letters that testify to the theology of the earliest Christians. He proclaimed:
Indeed, Scripture bears witness to this fact when it states that in Christ, “all fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). At Luke 24:37-39, this testimony is given of our Lord’s resurrection:
Even though Jesus testified that He did not resurrect as “a spirit,” the Watchtower Society asserts that Jesus rose as the Archangel Michael, an invisible “spirit” person. Claiming that Jesus existed as Michael prior to his descent to earth, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that at his death, the “man” Jesus ceased to exist.2. So, what about Jesus’ post resurrection appearances in human flesh? What happened to Jesus’ real body? The Society offers the following explanation:
As can be seen in the above quote, the Watchtower gives several arguments against the idea that Jesus raised in his physical, human body. We will now examine them:
The Watchtower Society argues that Jesus yielded His body of flesh as a final sacrifice for sin so that He could not take his body back without voiding the sacrifice. This argument is flawed because nowhere in the Bible is any example given where the sacrifice of “flesh” atones for sin. On the contrary, all references to the cleansing of sin speak of the “shedding of blood.” Hebrews 9:22 states:
Thus, Jesus was able to shed his “blood” in payment for sin, and yet resurrect his human body of “flesh and bones” without compromising salvation’s sacrifice. Thus, He proclaimed:
Regarding this passage Apologist Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe explain: “…life-giving spirit’ does not speak of the nature of the resurrection body, but of the divine origin of the resurrection. Jesus’ physical body came back to life only by the power of God (cf. Rom. 1:4). So, Paul is speaking about its spiritual source, not its physical substance as a material body… In summation, the resurrection body is called ‘spiritual’ and ‘life-giving spirit’ because its source is the spiritual realm, not because its substance is immaterial. Christ’s supernatural resurrection body is ‘from heaven,’ as Adam’s natural body was ‘of the earth’ (v. 47). But just as the one from ‘earth’ also has an immaterial soul, even so the One from ‘heaven’ also has a material body.” —When Critics Ask, A Popular Handbook of Bible Difficulties, pp 467-468 (Victor Books, 1992)
Scripture often employs the terms “in the flesh” and “in the spirit” to contrast the fleshly, carnal or sinful way of life with that of the spiritual, godly way of life. For example, at Romans 8:8-9 we read that Christians who have God’s Spirit walk “in the spirit” rather than “in the flesh.” It is obvious that Paul is not teaching that Christians who walk “in the spirit” are spirit creatures. Rather, Paul is proclaiming that by walking “in the spirit,” one is walking by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. In the same way, 1 Peter 3:18 proclaims that Jesus rose from the dead “in the [power of God’s] Spirit.”
Indeed, Jesus who was “made alive in the spirit,” did not become a spirit, but was “made alive” to the supernatural, eternal, spiritual realm of life. Jesus was put to death “in the flesh” —that is, in the fleshly realm of sinful man (not that He was sinful, but that He lived among sinners), and He was made alive “in the spirit” —that is, in the eternal (spiritual) realm, no longer bound to earthly life with all its limitations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus could not have risen in His human body of flesh and bones, because Scripture states that “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Notice that Jesus did not say that His resurrected body was made of “flesh and blood.” Rather, He said His body was made of “flesh and bone” (Luke 24:39). This is significant because the term “flesh and blood” is often used in Scripture to refer to mortal humanity, 3. in contrast to the imperishable, resurrected body alluded to by the phrase, “flesh and bones.”
As noted earlier, Jesus’ blood provided the atonement for sin. Thus, He did not take His “blood” back, but merely resurrected his body of flesh and bones. Far from claiming that the resurrected human body cannot inherit God’s kingdom, this passage asserts that the mortal, perishable human body (made of flesh and blood) cannot inherit the immortal, imperishable kingdom of God. Indeed as 1 Corinthians 15:53 states, “this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
One of the most common arguments Jehovah’s Witnesses bring against the bodily resurrection of Christ is the fact that Jesus wasn’t always recognized after His resurrection. Claiming that Jesus returned to life as a spirit creature, they assert, “Jesus simply materialized or took on a fleshly body, as angels had done in the past” in order to prove that He had risen from the dead. 4. Thus, they claim Jesus wasn’t readily recognized because He was not raised in His original body. Does the disciples’ lack of recognition prove that Jesus rose from the grave as an invisible spirit who manifested “different” bodies to His followers? We will now examine the Scripture passages in question:
Luke 24:13-35 describes an event when Jesus appeared to His disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they did not recognize Him at first. Nowhere in the passage does it say that Jesus had a different looking body. On the contrary, the passage says that the disciples’ eyes “were prevented from recognizing Him” (Luke 24:16). It was not until He had finished talking and eating with them that God allowed their eyes to be “opened” so that they could recognize Jesus (Luke 24:31).
John 20:15 gives the account of Mary who thought Jesus was the gardener at her first visit to the empty tomb. When we consider the fact that Mary was blinded by her grief and it was still dark because it was “very early in the morning” (John 20:1), it is not surprising that Mary mistook Jesus for the gardener.
John 21:4 states, “Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” Context reveals that the disciples were far from the shore and were not expecting the Lord to be there. However, in verse seven we read that John did indeed recognize Jesus.
In each of these incidents, there are logical and reasonable explanations as to why Jesus was not immediately recognized in every one of His post-resurrection appearances. Furthermore, in the same way that Jesus was not immediately recognized after His resurrection, we read examples where He was not readily recognized prior to His death.
Matthew 14:26 records an event in which Jesus’ disciples mistook Him for a “spirit.” Are we to assume that prior to Jesus’ death, He took on a “different” body at this incident because His disciples did not recognize Him? Obviously not!
At Luke 4:28-30, we read of an incident in which the Jews were about to stone Him for blasphemy. Scripture records that instead of stoning Him, Jesus walked through the midst of the Jews and they did absolutely nothing about it. Don’t you think that if the Jews had recognized Jesus in the crowd, they would have continued to try to stone Him? Since this event took place prior to Jesus’ death, we know He was not manifesting a “different” body in this incident either. So, the simple fact that Jesus’ disciples did not always recognize Him at certain times prior to and after His resurrection does not prove that He was in a “different” body! Indeed, Watchtower reasoning against Jesus’ bodily resurrection falls apart under scrutiny.
The Watchtower argues that Jesus could not have performed the supernatural activities He did with His body if it was a physical human body. John 20:26 states, “Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said,’ Peace be with you.’” The Society asks, “…how was it possible on that occasion for him suddenly to appear in their midst even though the doors were locked?” —Reasoning from the Scriptures, p. 217
In answer, we must consider the fact that Jesus created all things and presently holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17). It is certainly not unreasonable to conclude that the Lord of this universe, Jesus Himself, can arrange and rearrange the molecular structure of anything at will.
The text simply states that Jesus appeared and “stood” in the midst of His disciples. It does not say the He passed through the walls or roof. Consider also that Jesus did miraculous works with His body prior to His resurrection as at Matthew 14:26 where Jesus is seen walking on the water. Hence, supernatural appearances with His post-resurrected, human body would not have been difficult for Him.
Page 317 of the 1989 edition of Reasoning from the Scriptures (a book published by the Watchtower Society) proclaims that “Reincarnation” is the belief that one is “reborn in another body.” The Watchtower goes on to state that this is “not a Bible teaching.” As we have already noted, the Watchtower asserts that Jesus “took on different bodies” when He appeared to His followers. They also state on page 335 of their Reasoning book, “Jesus did not always appear in the same body of flesh.”
How is this view of resurrection any different from reincarnation? We would submit that the only difference lies in the manner of returning to life—namely, birth rather than arising from the grave. Either way, the end result —a different body— is not a resurrection, but a reincarnation!
On page 333 of the Society’s Reasoning book, they admit that the Greek word for resurrection (anastasis) means a “standing up again,” or “revival of the dead.” Thus, to qualify as a “resurrection,” there must be a real connection between the body that died and the body that was raised. Since, Jesus did not die as a spirit-creature, He could not have been raised as a spirit-creature. Since Michael the Archangel did not die, Michael the Archangel could not have been resurrected. If Jesus’ resurrected body is not the original, it must be counterfeit. It is as simple as that!
At John 2:18-22, Jesus answered the Jews who challenged Him to show them the sign of His authority. At verse 19, He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews misunderstood what He was referring to and thought He spoke of the temple in Jerusalem. Then, at verse 21, John explained that Jesus “was speaking of the temple of His body.”
Could Jesus have been talking about the “spirit body” of Michael the Archangel being raised up? No! He could not have been referring to a “spirit body,” because the Jews did not “destroy” Jesus’ “spirit body.” They destroyed His physical human body, so it was His human body that He promised to raise.
When did Jesus’ disciples know what He meant back in verse 19? We find the answer at verse 22 where John wrote, “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.” Indeed, if the physical body that the Jews destroyed was not resurrected, Jesus’ prophecy proved false and our faith is worthless.
The Bible plainly teaches that the “man” Jesus who died is the same “man” Jesus who was resurrected. 1 Timothy 2:5 states, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” He presently sits at the right hand of God as the “man” who mediates on our behalf. One day, Jesus will physically and visibly return to judge the world as the “Son of Man” — a Messianic term, denoting His humanity:
It is beyond the scope of this article to present all of the Biblical reasons for denying that Jesus is Michael the Archangel, but consider these points:
The Watchtower claims that there are two groups of Christians: those who resurrect to life in heaven and those who resurrect to life on earth. Not only does the Watchtower Society’s doctrine deny Jesus of His physical human body, but it denies all who are destined to life in heaven of their bodies as well. Only those destined to life on earth are said to receive physical human bodies.
Does the Bible support the idea that only some will receive resurrected bodies? We’ve already seen how the Watchtower misinterprets Scripture to deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and this teaching is no exception. We will now consider what the following Scriptures have to say:
Scripture promises that our physical human bodies will be transformed to the likeness of Jesus’ glorious body. It explains that this will occur by the transforming of our “perishable,” mortal bodies into “imperishable” supernatural bodies that are physically able to inherit Heaven.
It is significant that the phrase “put on” is used throughout 1 Corinthians 15. It indicates adding something to humanity, not taking something away. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 also describes this event.
These passages describe two groups of Christians: Those who receive resurrected bodies after death and those whose living bodies are transformed from perishable to imperishable at Christ’s second coming.
We know from Scripture that immediately upon death, the souls of Christians who die prior to the return of Christ, immediately go to be “with” Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-9; Philippians 1:21-23). Since their souls are “with Christ,” 1 Thessalonians 4:14 explains that when Christ returns, God “will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” It is not until verses 16 that we see the souls of these Christians reunited with their resurrected bodies. Thus, the first to receive their resurrected bodies are the “souls” of Christians whose bodies have “fallen asleep” in the grave and are presently “with Christ.” 5.
Christians who are alive at the time of Christ’s second coming are the second group to receive glorified bodies. They do not die because their mortal bodies are immediately transformed into imperishable bodies of flesh and bone. Just as Scripture states, “we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:42) and “caught up together with them” (those who had died) to meet the Lord Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
At 1 Peter 3:7-13 and Revelation 21, the Bible declares that after the 1,000-year reign of Christ, God will create a “new heaven” and a “new earth” for all Christians to enjoy. It is our position that since Jesus was able to travel between heaven and earth in his physical, glorified resurrected body, Christians will be able to do the same in their glorified bodies. Thus, just as the Bible states God will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His [Jesus’] glory” (Philippians 3:21).
Nowhere is there any distinction given between the resurrected bodies of Christians inheriting heaven, and those inheriting the earth. In fact, one will search in vein to find any allusion to the Jehovah’s Witness idea that only 144,000 people will inherit heaven while the rest will remain on earth. It is true that Christians will rule over inhabitants of earth during the 1,000-year reign of Christ, but the Bible describes these Christians as those who were killed during the Great Tribulation and resurrected to life to rule with Christ over the unbelieving inhabitants of earth. Revelation 20:4-5 explains:
Finally, we read about the last group of people destined to be resurrected. They are those who rejected salvation in Christ. The Bible declares that when they died, immediately their “souls” went to abide in punishment called “hell” or “Hades” (Luke 16:22-29). Although their bodies remain in the grave until after the 1,000-year reign of Christ has been completed upon the earth, Revelation explains that at the end of this time, God will resurrect both “death” and “Hades” for final judgment and throw them into the eternal torment of “second death,” called the “lake of fire.”
See the following links for additional information related to this topic:
1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible.
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