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Was the Human Body of Christ Immortalized and, if so, will this happen with each Believer?

HAROLD L. FLEMINGS
September 1998
 

Was the human body of Christ Jesus immortalized and, if so, will this happen to each believer? Some religious groups say "Yes", but Jehovah's Witnesses say "No". This paper will consider both positions in the light of the Holy Scriptures. This will be in the spirit of 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 which says, "All scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching - for reproof, correction and training in holiness so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped for every good work." (The New American Bible)

Those taking the affirmative position cite a number of scriptures as evidence. Usually those citations are the following:

John 2:18-22: "The Jews then said to him, 'What sign have you to show us for doing this?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?' But he spoke of the temple of his body. "When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this: and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken." (Revised Standard Version)

Acts 2:25-27: "For David speaketh concerning him (Jesus), 'I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved; therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope; because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption." (King James Version)

Philippians 3:21 "But our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly await a savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will refashion the body of our lowliness, conforming it to the body of his glory by exerting the power by which he is able also to subject all things to himself." (Challoner-Rheims Version)

Acts 13:30, 36, 37: "But God raised him up from the dead; ...for David, on the one hand, served the express will of God in his own generation and fell asleep (in death) and was laid with his forefathers and did see corruption. On the other hand, he whom God raised up did not see corruption." (New World Translation)

1 Corinthians 15:53: "For this which is corruptible must put on incorruption and this which is mortal must put on immortality." (New World Translation)

Luke 24:36-43: "Now while they were talking of these things, Jesus stood in their midst, and said to them, 'Peace to you! It is I, do not be afraid.' But they were startled and panic-stricken, and thought that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, 'Why are you disturbed, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, that it is I myself. Feel me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." (New World Translation)

The scriptures just cited supposedly make the case that Jesus' fleshly body was raised to life and immortalized since it did not see "corruption" and that faithful Christians resurrected to the heavens will go there with the same human bodies they had, but bodies that have been treated to immortality and incorruption. For many, the scripture at Luke 24:36-43 really confirms this viewpoint.

We take issue with this viewpoint. We realize that in so doing, we need to address the scriptures just listed and that we shall do after presenting our case.

To begin, let us examine the words of the Apostle Paul at 2 Corinthians 5:1-6: "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, should be dissolved, we are to have a building from God, a house not made with hands, everlasting in the heavens. For in this dwelling house, we do indeed groan, earnestly desiring to put on the one for us from heaven, so that, having really put it on, we shall not be found naked. In fact, we who are in this tent groan, being weighed down; because we want, not to put it off, but to put on the other, that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now he that produced us for this very thing is God, who gave us the token of what is to come, that is, the spirit. We are therefore always of good courage and know that, while we have our home in the body, we are absent from the Lord...".

To us, it seems clear that here the Apostle Paul is saying that the route to heaven begins with the fleshly body, the "earthly house", dissolving - not being immortalized. The resurrected personality or mind would be "naked" without a body - especially since the earthly would be "dissolved". To that end, God has designed another body, one from heaven. That one is "put on" while the earthly one has been "put off". As long as one destined to go to heaven is in his earthly body, his "earthly house", he is "absent from the Lord". He cannot go to heaven with that one to be with the Lord because according to 1 Corinthians 15:50: "...flesh and blood cannot inherit God's Kingdom...". And, the corruptible human body cannot be immortalized because "... neither does corruption inherit incorruption" (same verse).

There are also some logical considerations. For one, what is the meaning of an immortalized human body in heaven? In a spirit environment, what would one do with legs, hands, a stomach, a nose, and eyes? All of these organs relate to a corporeal environment, not a spiritual environment. One doesn't need to go to the divine heavens to make the point; consider the utility of the human body if it were locked in space someplace between the earth and Mars - Could it walk with its legs? Could it breathe with its nose and lungs? Could it speak audibly with its mouth? Another consideration, at death the human body decays and in many instances parts of it are consumed by plants and animals, some of whom are consumed by other humans. That means that humans now living contain some of the substance of deceased humans. The dilemma should be obvious. This raises the question: Since in the case of the living human the body is constantly changing - cells dying and being replaced, why would it be necessary to resurrect the body that died? What is so special about that particular human body?

Showing that the body sown in death is not the body that is used in the resurrection, the Apostle Paul observed, "But, someone will ask, 'how are the dead raised? And with what body do they come?' You simpleton! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. Nor is what you sow the body that is to be; it is a mere kernel, either of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as He plans, and to each seed its particular body." (1 Corinthians 15:35-38 The New Berkeley Version). The Jerusalem Bible translates verse 37 this way, "...and the thing that you sow is not what is going to come...". The New English Bible says, "... and what you sow is not the body that shall be...".

In the case of our Lord Jesus Christ, he sacrificed his body for our sins; his body was an offering. If he took back his human body, it would no longer be a sacrifice and an offering - and what would that mean for our sins? Hebrews 10:10 tells us: "And in accordance with this will of God, we have been made holy (consecrated and sanctified) through the offering made once for all of the body of Jesus Christ, the Anointed One". (Amplified Bible) At John 6:51 Jesus informs us that, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." (Revised Standard Version)

To that end, Paul advises us that Jesus was not resurrected in his human body but in a spirit body. Commenting on Jesus as the "Last Adam", Paul says, "Scripture has it that Adam, the first man, became a living soul, the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit... The first man was of earth, formed from dust, the second is from heaven." (1 Corinthians 15:45,47 The New American Bible)

The theology that argues that in the resurrection an immortal soul is joined to an immortalized resurrected body has another problem: The Bible not only denies the notion that the human body will be immortalized, it also denies the notion that the soul is immortal. Note the following evidences cited from the King James Version:

Leviticus 23:30: "And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people."

Joshua 11:11: "And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them; there was not any left to breathe...".

Psalm 7:5: "...Let the enemy persecute my soul and take it..."

Psalm 22:20: "Deliver my soul from the sword..."

Psalm 22:29: "...And none can keep alive his own soul."

Psalm 89:48: "What man is he that liveth and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?"

Isaiah 53:12: "...Because he hath poured out his soul unto death..."

Jeremiah 2:34: "Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents..."

Revelation 16: 3: "...And every living soul died in the sea."

The Hebrew word translated "soul" is "nephesh", (נפש). It is rendered sometimes as "person", "living being", "life", and of course, "soul". The Greek work translated "soul" is "psycke" (ψνχη) It is also rendered "soul, "life", "person", and "living being". These words are never associated with immortality in the Bible.

The bottom line is that both the "human soul" and the "human body" are mortal. This then explains the need of a resurrection; one cannot resurrect individuals that are not dead.

But what about the verses cited at the beginning? Do they establish that Jesus was resurrected in a human body and do they prove that Christians resurrected to the heavens will ascend with immortalized "glorified" human bodies?

At John 2:18-22, Jesus evidently was referring to his resurrection when he said, "...I will raise it up..." And we are then told, "...He spoke of the temple of his body." But in which body did he raise? A human body or a spirit body? Paul says at 1 Corinthians 15:44-46, "It is a physical body that is buried in the ground like the seed; it is a spiritual body that is raised. If there is a physical body, there is bound also to be a spiritual body. The first man Adam became a life-having person. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it was not the spiritual which came first; it was first the physical, then the spiritual. (The New Testament by William Barclay)

According to Psalm 16:10, Acts 2:25-27, et al, Jehovah did not allow Jesus' human body to "see corruption". It thus was not permitted to decompose or rot as is the case with others. 'For what reason? Would not at least one possible answer be that it would not be appropriate for the dead body of God's son to corrupt? The fact that it did not see corruption doesn't say that he took it back. The Bible says that he sacrificed his body for our sins. Another reason why Jehovah would not leave Jesus' body to undergo the normal decomposition settles on the fact that misguided individuals would have undoubtedly used his remains as objects of worship, a distortion of true worship. This is possibly what the Devil had in mind for the remains of Moses. (See Jude 9.)

At Philippians 3:21, Paul informs us that for those going to heaven, Jesus... "will refashion the body of (their) lowliness, conforming it to the body of his glory...". The New International Version reads,"... will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body...". The New Testament in Modern English by Helen Montgomery says, "...who will change the fashion of the body of our abasement into the likeness of his glorious body..." The Greek word translated "refashion", "transform" and "change the fashion" is "μετασχηματισει". According to A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Volume 2, page 213, by Fritz Rienecker, this Greek word means "...to refashion, to change the outward form or appearance. The meaning of the word would be illustrated not merely by changing a Dutch garden into an Italian garden, by transforming a garden into something wholly different, as into a city...". So the Greek does not say that the human body is kept and certain attributes added. No, we have "something wholly different", a spirit body.

This brings us to 1 Corinthians 15:53 which declares, "For this which is corruptible must put on incorruption and this which is mortal must put on immortality." To some this means that the deceased and now resurrected human body puts on incorruption and immortality. However, based on Paul's words at 2 Corinthians 5: 1-6, it is the resurrected personality that "puts on" immortality and incorruptibility, not the human body.

Now, what about the scene described at Luke 24:36-39? Let's review what it says, "While they were telling them this, suddenly the Lord himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you. Full of fear and terror, they thought that they were seeing a ghost. But he said to them" 'Why are you troubled? Why are these doubts coming up in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet and see that it is I, myself. Feel me, and you will see, for a ghost doesn't have flesh and bones, as you can see I have." (Today's English Version). Byington's The Bible in Living English translates verse 39 this way, "...Because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." The deep student of the Bible immediately recalls that the Bible records many instances of good spirits, namely angels, that did appear as humans and performed human acts. Angels are called "spirits" at 1 Kings 22:21, Hebrews 1:7,14, and Psalm 104:4. Let's look at some references establishing that good spirits could do what Jesus did at Luke 24:36-39.

At Genesis 19:1-3, we find these words, "The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 'My lords', he said, 'please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.' 'No,' they answered, 'we will spend the night in the square.' But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate." (New International Version). Notice how the angel is described that visited Joshua, "Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he woke up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand." (Joshua 5:13-15 New International Version).

Since the flood of Noah's day, there are no recorded instances of evil angels, evil spirits materializing. In fact, the Bible shows that evil spirits rely on spirit mediums to manifest themselves "physically", otherwise they cannot have "flesh and bones" as Jesus did on the occasion recorded at Luke 24:36-43. (See Leviticus 19:31 and Deuteronomy 18:9-14).

The message of Luke 24:36-43 was that Jesus was resurrected and that the materialized body that appeared was a testimony to that resurrection, a feat that would not be possible for an evil spirit, a "ghost".

In conclusion, we feel that the evidence shows that both the "soul" and "body" are mortal and that immortality is reached when God gives a spirit body to those resurrected. Furthermore, we feel that Jesus sacrificed his human body for our sins and that he is now a powerful spirit person in the heavens with his God and Father, Jehovah.

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