Bodily resurrection is an essential aspect of Christian doctrine, taught by the Lord Jesus Himself, explained by the apostle Paul, and foreseen by the apostle John in the Revelation. The truth of bodily resurrection actually precedes the writings of the New Testament. Job, who may have lived before Abraham, said, “… though … worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26). Prior to any New Testament books being written, Martha the sister of Lazarus said to the Lord Jesus, “I know that he shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24).
The thought of a “spiritual afterlife” is as ancient as man himself. Primitive religious beliefs all acknowledge a “spirit” realm. Among the Greeks there were those who rejected any possibility of a physical resurrection. The Sadducees, a sect of the Jews, believed there was neither resurrection, angel, nor spirit. The materialist thinking of modern day science follows this same thought.
The Bible, the Word of God, clearly teaches that mankind was created in the image of God. Since God in His essence exists in a trinity, man also is made up of three parts. Each human being is a tri-part being: spirit, soul, and body. Yet the entrance of sin brought the sentence of death, both spiritual and physical, and so the body is in a continual process of decay. Physical death is the ultimate end, but the death of the body is not the cessation of the spirit-soul of man as the Scripture also shows. At the time of physical death the spirit-soul leaves the physical body to go out, either to heaven or to hell.
There are three examples in the Old Testament of individuals who were raised again from the dead; one in relation to Elijah and two in relation to Elisha. In the New Testament there are three raised by the Lord Jesus. Thus the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the seventh mentioned in Scripture. There were a number of others raised afterwards.
The order of resurrection is clearly outlined in 1Corinthians 15:23 where we read, “Christ the firstfruits.” Again, 1Corinthians 15:20 states He is “the firstfruits of them that slept.” This term is used eight times (the number of resurrection) in the New Testament. It is twice used of the first believers of Achaia. It is twice used of Christ and His resurrection. Its use is a reminder of an Old Testament type. Israel was taught at Mount Sinai that, when they entered the Promised Land, the first portions of their harvest should be given to the Lord. Whether it was the first handful of barley or wheat that came from the ground, the first olive oil or wine from the tree, it would be for the Lord. The “firstfruit” was thus an indication of a harvest to come. It was a picture of Him, Who would come to die on the tree and rise again from the ground. David, writing a thousand years before the New Testament days, would prophetically show His bodily resurrection with these words, “Nor suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).
Israel kept a Feast of the Firstfruits. It is significant that this offering of firstfruits was made “on the morrow after the Sabbath,” that would be the first day of the week. Thus in picture or type introduced some 1500 years beforehand, we see that the Lord Jesus would on the first day of the week rise in resurrection. His resurrection is then the very first of a new kind and a great number will later arise in the same way.
There is another aspect to the principle of the firstfruits. Not only is He the first of a new body kind in resurrection, but He is also the first in that body to be in heaven. Spirits of the saved whose bodies lie in the dust are in the glory, but there also, sitting at the right hand of God in a glorified body, is our Lord Jesus Christ, in a body which will never again be weary, hungry, or thirsty.
The Lord Jesus was born a child at Bethlehem, but His birth was miraculous. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He was God manifest in flesh. He was perfectly human, yet the Scripture is clear that He was sinless. This is the testimony of the Apostles: “He knew no sin,” “He did no sin,” “in Him there is no sin.” The words of the unclean spirits were, “We know Thee Who Thou art, the Holy One of God.” His body was not subject to anything of sin or its consequences, but still, having a true physical body, He needed food, drink, and rest. We read of His being hungry, weary, and saying, “I thirst.” He wept over Jerusalem; He groaned in spirit; He spoke of His soul’s being troubled. He was the perfect Man of earth. That He walked on the sea, appeared or disappeared, are demonstrations of divine power. These are not indications that His body was anything other than physical. Philip the evangelist, in a normal human body, was caught away physically to appear in another place (Acts 8:39).
In resurrection the Lord Jesus appeared unto His own not as a spirit, but in a physical body. In Luke 24:39 we read, “Behold My hands and My feet, … handle Me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see Me have.” The “flesh and bones” are physical and touchable in contrast to a “spirit,” which is neither. John in his first epistle would write, “That which we have handled.” The Lord’s words to Mary in the garden, “Touch Me not,” would be meaningless if His body could not be touched. His words to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger,” would have no purpose if He were not real. In the garden the women “held Him by the feet.” In the upper room He took “fish” and “honeycomb” and ate with His disciples. On the seashore of Galilee He gave bread and fish to His disciples. From the Mount of Olives, His followers watched Him go up until a cloud received Him out of their sight. These and other references clearly show that the resurrection body of our Lord Jesus Christ was indeed real and that He wanted His followers to know that.