A new kind of reality

I just read through each of the gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and was very struck by how Jesus’ resurrected life is portrayed. One the one hand, the physicality of Jesus’ body and the continuity of his personhood is stressed in the strongest possible terms. In Luke 24, for example, when the disciples are wondering whether Jesus is a ghost, he reassures them, “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” (v. 39; cf. John 20:27). And then, because seeing the holes in his hands and feet is not enough to convince them, he eats a fish in their presence (vv. 41-43). Against the gnostics, we must affirm with the early church the physicality of Jesus’ resurrection body.

And yet, there is something strange and supernatural about this physical body. After revealing himself to the disciples on the Emmaus road, he suddenly “vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31). Similarly, he can appear out of nowhere, even through locked doors (John 20:26). And on three separate occasions people who know him intimately do not recognize him, even when they are talking directly with him (the two disciples on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24, Mary Magdalene in John 20, and the seven disciples in John 21). Its obvious there is something different about Jesus after Easter morning.

What I am seeing is that on Easter morning Jesus did not merely come back to life: he came back to a new kind of life – one never before seen in history, one that is immortal and glorious, one both material and eschatological, bodily and heavenly, physical and spiritual. It is a new kind of reality, a sort of spiritual-physical hybrid. The writer of Hebrews calls it “the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16). Paul describes by saying, “the last Adam became a life-giving S/spirit” (I Corinthians 15:45). In other words, the resurrection is not mere revivification, but transformation. It is not the return to an old existence, but a passing into a new existence. Hebrews 2:9: “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor.”

Others before Jesus were physically resurrected (Lazarus, for example, and those under Elisha’s ministry), but they came back to a normal earthly life, to die one day again. Easter is different. Easter is new. It the invasion of the future, the start of the second creation, the first fruits of the renewal God will give to believers (I Corinthians 15:20ff.) and indeed, all creation (Romans 8:20-21). At Easter, a new kind of reality emerges – one without precedent in history or eternity.

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