“A Spirit Does Not Have Flesh and Bones as You See That I Have”
In our reading from the Gospel of John this morning, we find the disciples locked away in a private chamber. John tells us that they have locked themselves “for fear of the Jews.” They do not intend for anyone to get in!
Yet, to the disciples’ surprise, the Lord comes in and appears to them. John focuses on the disciples’ joy at discovering that Jesus has come back to life, because this reunion in John 20 fulfills what Jesus had promised in John 16.22: “So also you have sorrow now,” that is, as Jesus is crucified, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Luke records a different immediate response to the Lord’s appearance: “But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit” (Luke 24.37). Of course, Jesus’ sudden appearance among the disciples must have immediately raised two questions in everyone’s minds. First, how on earth are we seeing Jesus? Second, how on earth did He get in here when the door is locked? Luke tells us that their answer to both questions is to think that “they saw a spirit,” in other words, a ghost.
Jesus immediately lays their fear to rest. “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). John records Jesus twice offering the same proof that He is alive, once to the disciples (John 20.20) and once to Thomas (John 20.25-27). Jesus is emphatic that He is not a spirit, and in both accounts, He invites His disciples to touch His body and know that He is a flesh and blood human being. Jesus is explicit about His flesh-and-blood nature when He says, “A Spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
It is crucial that we understand this point about the resurrected Jesus. He was not a spirit (here, Luke records the normal Greek word for “spirit,” πνεῦμα pneuma). He claimed to have flesh and bones. The disciples could touch Him. The resurrected Jesus possessed a physical body.
I emphasize this because of a misconception in our circles about the nature of our resurrection. It is commonly taught and held that we will not have bodies in the resurrection, being instead pure, disembodied spirits. This teaching contradicts the clear teachings of Our Lord about His own resurrection and the teachings of the Apostles about the nature of our resurrection.
The promise of the resurrection is the central dogma of our faith, and the promise is that we shall be raised with the same resurrection as Our Lord Jesus. In his treatise on the resurrection, Paul calls Christ “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15.20); Jesus is the first of many. This is far from the only place where Paul teaches that we shall share in the same resurrection as Jesus. “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2 Cor 4.13-14). “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6.5).
If Christ was raised with a body, and if “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his,” then it follows that we shall be raised with bodies. “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’” I invite you to read Paul’s answer to that question in 1 Cor 15.35-49. His answer assumes that we will possess bodies. Certainly, the resurrection body is different from our current bodies. We see some of these differences in Jesus’ own resurrection body, which seems able to change its appearance and walk through walls, while also being tangible. Paul explains the differences more generally. He calls the current body “a natural body,” “of the dust,” weak and perishable. The resurrection body will be “a spiritual body,” “of heaven,” powerful and immortal—but it will be a body. As Jesus emphasized, He is no mere spirit, and neither shall we be.
The idea that we will be disembodied spirits in the resurrection is not to be found in the Bible. Instead, it comes from pagan philosophy, especially that of Socrates as recorded by Plato. Plato thought that all matter was corrupt, and he taught that ascension required the casting off of all flesh so that one could live as pure spirit. The adoption of these platonic ideas by other philosophies and by other religions is called Neoplatonism.
We must stay clear of this grave error! Disembodied spirits are not “raised from the dead”; the ghost of Samuel is evidence enough of that. If we teach that there is no resurrection body, then we teach that there is no resurrection at all and make God a liar! “We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised” (1 Cor 15.15).