“I heard that Jesus did not rise physically from the dead just spiritually and this meant that his second coming is also not physical it’s just a symbolic spiritual reign. I don’t believe it, but does the Bible actually say this and do Christians teach that Jesus is just a spiritual being? If so why. Thanks.”
Does the Bible teach that Christ rose in the flesh? Absolutely. Does the Bible teach that His second coming is physical? Yes–––though, Christ returns with new creation, so it’s a restored physical state like Eden, which is unlike our current fallen physical condition. As an earmark of this new creation, the healing miracles in the NT point to our future restoration, they are more than just healing to show off God’s power, though it is that too, it principally shows God’s love. This same goes for Jesus rising from the grave in the flesh, as we are flesh. It shows us what our future promise holds.
Usually, Jehovah Witness’ hold to the view you expressed above. In their eschatology (future things), the second coming of Christ has already happened – in 1914 to be exact – it was an invisible and spiritual event that took the world by storm. Yet, the physical and spiritual are diametrically opposed, never to be reconciled. So, this might be where it’s coming from. They further disavow Christ’s deity. In their theology, Jesus is, supposedly, the archangel Michael incarnate – just a god, not the God (cf. Revelation 22:8-9; Matthew 28:9). They also claim that Christ did not rise from the dead in the flesh, often quoting the apostle Paul as their source of inspiration (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). Scary thing is the apostles are very clear that the spirit of the antichrist belongs to those who claim Christ did not come and rise in the flesh (2 John 7; 1 John 4:2-3). The physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is a central pillar of the Christian faith, and there’s no reason to doubt it (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Let’s deal with the resurrection question first, then move to eschatology.
Did Jesus physically rise from the dead?
Jesus Christ foreknew and prophesied that he was going to be killed on a cross and would rise from the dead in three days. He even affirms beforehand that the resurrection would be, in fact, a bodily resurrection when “speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:18-21). We also know from Scripture that Christ’s resurrection from death was in the flesh and not just a spiritual transformation. Upon His resurrection, Scripture says Mary Magdalene and the other Mary “clasped” Jesus’ feet and worshipped Him (Matthew 28:9). Due to the crucifixion, the apostle Thomas firmly doubted a physical resurrection, but was immediately challenged by Jesus to place his finger in the holes on His hand and side (John 20:25-27). Then, He instructed every other disciple to look at and touch the holes in His hands and feet as a way to cast out any doubt, and then verbally affirms his physical bodily resurrection “for a spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:36-40). And for any further doubts, He eats broiled fish (Luke 24:41-43) to put the final nail in the coffin. This is more than just an eyewitness account, given that visual memory alone is subject to distortion, Jesus goes out of His way to demonstrate His bodily resurrection with tangible evidence and empirical verification through their visual, audible, and tactile faculties. He makes sure they know it is His flesh and His scars, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see.” (v.39a) It was the same crucified body of Jesus that died on the cross that rose from the grave three days later. The text could not be any clearer. Immediately after this, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures [Old Testament]” about Himself and his death, and then He commissioned his disciples “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48) The gospel is intimately tied to Christ rising in the flesh! Not believing in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only contrary to Scripture and the gospel, but it directly opposes God’s will and redemption plan. In fact, you have to go out of your way to reimagine what the text is saying in order to conclude that Jesus didn’t rise in His physical body.
Supposed JW counterarguments
Now Jehovah Witness’ will argue that Jesus was just showing off his scars to help the disciples who doubted His spiritual form. But this is not true. In fact, it’s just the opposite: “But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit” They were literally terrified that they saw a ghost, which had happened before, too, when Jesus walked on water (Matthew 14:26) –– this is the exact opposite of what JWs doctrine teaches, that it was solely a spiritual resurrection.
Furthermore, if Christ did not resurrect in His flesh but only rose spiritually, then He, technically, did not resurrect from the dead because we, as humans, die in the flesh (cf. Genesis 3:19) and then become spirit when we die. That is what the apostles anticipated at least; they doubted His bodily resurrection and assumed Jesus was a spirit, as if Jesus died and appeared like a ghost that materialized itself. He did not actually resurrect because resurrection requires your actual body. So why would the apostle John go so far out of its way to stress that “many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7) if the flesh was to be done away with without restoration? It would be a pointless and arbitrary doctrine to uphold.
The other argument goes that Jesus, like all angels, can dematerialize and materialize like the Nephilim did to sleep with human women (Genesis 6:4) or when the Angel of the Lord appeared and ate with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:1-15), and so, Jesus also materialized in this form to counter their doubt. To be clear, this does not refer to Jesus’ earthly ministry before he died, it is only in regard to His life after physical death. In the spirit of this, they claim Jesus’ body “disintegrated into atoms”. Note: this is never said in the Bible. It’s a ploy used to reframe the context of Christ’s resurrection to make you doubt whether He rose in the flesh of His earthly body. Either way, while I do not doubt that Jesus can “materialize” and “dematerialize” after the resurrection, given the accounts of Him appearing into closed rooms and disappearing, His ascension into Heaven, and the OT theophanies (cf. Genesis 18:1-15; 32:22-32; Joshua 5:13-15), the truth is, it still does not disconfirm or contradict the fact that Jesus rose from death in His body after three days. It doesn’t change anything. It’s a moot point. It just means His flesh was transformed after He died and rose again, which is what Christians believe will happen. I repeat: It was the same crucified body of Jesus that died on the cross that rose from the grave three days later. The tomb was empty because Jesus left, not because he “disintegrated”.
Is the Second Coming of Christ physical?
When Paul says that there is a spiritual body and a natural body (1 Corinthians 15:44-45), he is not speaking about the elemental forces of “matter and energy”, he is just speaking about the physical world as we experience it now – subjected to futility and sin. It’s a false dichotomy to teach there is no physical restoration when God’s initial creation and “all that He had made” before the Fall was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Consider Paul’s words carefully: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you…. we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:11, 23. Emphasis added) Christ rising in the flesh is essential doctrine because it is God’s plan to redeem us and the physical world (cf. Revelation 22:2-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55). This means when Christ returns, his second coming will restore our mortal bodies and all of creation to its Edenic state: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility….in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23)
As expressed in Jesus’ prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10. Emphasis added) And there will be a future Day where we experience, in its fullest form, what His prayer points to: the new heavens and new earth, all in all, new creation. We also know His second coming is not going to be “invisible” or symbolic because Christ said so: “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man…. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory…. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:27, 30, 35. Emphasis added). It’s a global, cataclysmic event the whole world will witness. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ is Lord.
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:23. Emphasis added) Scripture is abundantly clear –– Jesus Christ, our Lord, is Lord.
God bless and Happy Easter!
Matlock Bobechko | April 4, 2021 – 8:44 AM EST