14 May 2023

When Jesus had to prove he’s alive.

Luke 24.35-43.

To western thinking, this happened the very same day Jesus was resurrected, but late at night. To middle eastern thinking, days are from sundown to sundown, so it’s the next day. But John remembered it as being the same day, Jn 20.19 maybe right before sundown. I’ll discuss John’s point of view another time.

It happens right after two students had just got back from Emmaus after a Jesus-sighting. They show up, they tell everyone what they just experienced… and then this happens.

Luke 24.35-43 KWL
35 The students are telling the other students
what happened on the road,
and when they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread.
36 While the students were talking about these things,
Jesus stands in the middle of them,
and tells them, “Peace to you all.”
37 Becoming startled and afraid,
the students are thinking they see Jesus’s ghost,
38 and Jesus tells them, “Why were you freaked out?
Why do objections rise up in your minds?
39 Look at my hands and my feet, because I am myself.
Touch me and see!—for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bone,
as you see I have.”
40 Saying this, Jesus shows them his hands and feet,
41 yet they don’t believe Jesus, wondering in joy.
Jesus tells the students, “Does anyone have food here?”
42 They give Jesus a piece of roasted fish,
43 and taking it, Jesus eats it in front of them.

Jesus just appears. John says he just appeared in the middle of a locked room; Jn 20.19 there was no way for him to get in except through the windows, and he didn’t go in through the windows. He was just… there.

There are a billion different guesses as to how he just appears, but let me remind you none of them are bible. Neither Luke nor John says how he appears. So don’t go insisting you know exactly how he did it, and everyone else’s theory is wrong. You don’t know. I don’t know. And it might blow your mind for me to say this, but maybe even Jesus doesn’t know. Must we know? Nah.

Obviously when a man just appears in front of everybody, people tend to freak out, and the suddenly-appearing person has to tell them “Fear not!” Lk 1.13, 1.30, 2.10 lest they soil themselves in terror. I suspect that’s a lot of the reason Jesus doesn’t blink into a room like this with just anyone. But it certainly didn’t help his argument that he’s not a ghost; sudden appearances are the sort of things we expect ghosts to do, right?

No really; Jesus is a physical being.

I’ve met way too many people who think Jesus actually is a ghost. Including Christians!

When Christians claim he’s a ghost, they’ve usually picked up this false idea by misinterpreting a passage Paul and Sosthenes wrote about “spiritual bodies” in 1 Corinthians. Here’s a popular translation (and interpretation) of it. Big long quote time!

1 Corinthians 15.25-53 NIV
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; Ge 2.7 the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

The apostles had more to say, but that’s the relevant portion.

The Corinthians were Greek, and pagan Greek culture didn’t believe in resurrection. Once you were dead you became a spirit, and stayed a spirit; you existed forever as a spirit. Which was seen as a good thing. Flesh decays and dies, so you wanna be something that never decays and dies—like spirit.

So when Christians started teaching ’em Jesus was gonna raise us all from the dead just like he was raised, the Greeks immediately wanted to know… well, why. If you’re dead, and a ghost, you’re pure spirit; why would you ever want to go back to flesh? Flesh decays and dies! You’re just gonna grow old again. Or you’ll be eternally young; there are Greek myths about eternal youth, so they could handle that idea; but what if, God forbid, something happens to you? What if you accidentally fall off a cliff?—are you gonna live forever with horribly broken bones? Or is God gonna cure everything now? Or maybe you’re now indestructible, and now you can jump off cliffs for fun? How’s this work?

I should point this out: Paul and Sosthenes don’t actually say how it’s gonna work. Which is why Christians are still speculating about that. Me, I think the trees of life Rv 22.2 are gonna cure everything. Other Christians are betting on Superman-style indestructibility. Guess we’ll see.

But what they do say is, for those Greeks who are fretting about flesh and blood, the bodies we get after resurrection aren’t gonna be the kind of flesh and blood you’re used to. They’re gonna be as everlasting as spirit. They’re gonna be “spiritual bodies.” That’s not just a wacky idea they just coined; you’re aware there are all sorts of bodies in the universe, like human bodies, animal bodies, bird bodies, planetary bodies, and so forth. Turns out there are also “spiritual bodies,” which don’t decay and die like the bodies you’re used to.

But they’re still bodies.

Now, when Christians read this passage for proof texts, they don’t always think about what it is the apostles are trying to say to ancient Greeks who were curious about how resurrection bodies work. They don’t care about ancient Greeks; they only care about themselves. They’re pretty sure the bible was written for them, not for the ancients too—and really more for the ancients, which is why we gotta know something about ancient history when we read a bible! Anyway these Christians zoom in on the word πνευματικόν/nefmatikón, “spiritual,” and say, “Oh! We’re gonna have ‘spiritual bodies.’ Meaning we’ll be spirits!”—and that’s as far as they try to understand it. They think they do understand it.

To their minds, when we die, we’ll become ghosts. And have ghostly bodies. Which won’t do much here on earth, but in heaven we’ll have the power to touch stuff, including other ghosts; and that’s where we’ll exist from then on.

And that’s what Jesus was too: A ghost.

Except Jesus said he’s not a ghost. He’s got flesh! He’s got bones! You can touch him; you can’t touch a ghost! He can breathe; Jn 20.22 ghosts don’t breathe! He can eat; ghosts can’t eat! And at some point, his resurrected body is gonna finish breaking down that food into nutrients, and he’ll need to use the toilet; ghosts don’t poop!

(Oh yeah: We’re still gonna need to poop. Same as we’ll need to exhale. If you thought digestion was over with, clearly you forgot God originally created humans with this trait, ’cause he means for us to be part of the ecosystem like that. But in the kingdom of God, the greatest among us will have no qualms about cleaning the bathrooms of the least among us.)

Jesus has a “spiritual body” in that it’ll last forever, like spirit. It won’t decay. Won’t age. Won’t die. But “spiritual body” does not mean he’s spirit now. He has flesh and bones.

I know a number of preachers who are really fond of saying, “Flesh and bones—not flesh and blood, ’cause he bled out all his blood when he died for our sins.” True; but he gave up his life too, and got that back, so why not blood too? Our bone marrow makes our blood, y’know. Jesus doesn’t mention his blood here, because he’s trying to get the students to feel his flesh and bones, and realize he’s solid, and corporeal, and real. They’re not gonna feel his blood; eww! So there’s no reason to mention he has blood again… and no reason to think resurrection is some weird bloodless vampiric state.

Nope. Signs of crucifixion aside, Jesus is a living, breathing human being again. And forever.

With his kids struggling to believe it.

Part of the reason Jesus showed them his hands and feet was because in middle eastern ghost stories, ghosts actually don’t have hands and feet. When middle easterners described ghosts, they said it was kind of a vague shape—it was a person, and they could kinda tell who the person was—but everything else was hazy, like mist, like smoke. Think of the genies in Aladdin—the Disney versions kinda get it right, where instead of legs the genies are sort of a vaporous form pouring out of their lamps. It’s not a whole, solid person. But Jesus is a whole, solid person.

Traditionally, Christians have taught Jesus still has scars from his crucifixion—nail-marks from where his wrists and ankles were tacked to the cross, a spear-mark from when the soldier stabbed him, sometimes little scars from his crown of thorns. They don’t mention his back torn all up from flogging. But if he has scars, he has those scars too.

Why didn’t he have them removed when he got his new improved body? Because sometimes you want scars, as reminders of what you’ve been through. Not because you can’t move past them; you have! You’ve overcome. They’re marks of victory.

And if Jesus has scars, yeah that’s also why he showed them his hands and feet. He wasn’t a Jesus lookalike, pretending Jesus had come back from the dead: He’d been killed. It’s really Jesus.

Even so, his kids were struggling with the idea, Lk 24.41 because they’d gone their whole lives believing the dead stay dead. Yeah, the Pharisees had taught them God’ll raise everyone at the End, but the End hadn’t come—yet Jesus was raised before the End. That, they didn’t expect at all. They were still trying to figure out in their heads how on earth Jesus’s resurrection fits within the Pharisee End Times timeline. ’Cause, as other scriptures indicate, Ac 1.7 they still had that timeline on the brain! They didn’t realize, same as Christians who have their own End Times timelines still don’t realize, God’s plan may utterly upend our plans—and we have to follow him, not our plans.

Jesus realized the students were still stuck on this, so the next passage is about how he tried to un-stick ’em.