One of the distinctive doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses is their belief that Jesus, after His death and burial, was not raised to life again in His body, but rather as a spirit creature (the archangel Michael). They say that Jesus' fleshly body was disposed of by Jehovah God forever. How do Jehovah's Witnesses arrive at this conclusion? What is the truly biblical view of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? This article will seek to answer such questions as these.
The following quotes are typical of the Watchtower position on the resurrection of Christ:
"...many persons believe that Christ took his fleshly body to heaven. They point to the fact that when Christ was raised from the dead, his fleshly body was no longer in the tomb (Mark 16:5-7). Also, after his death Jesus appeared to his disciples in a fleshly body to show them that he was alive. Once He even had the apostle Thomas put his hand into the hole in His side so that Thomas would believe that He had actually been resurrected (John 20:24-27) Does this not prove that Christ was raised alive in the same body in which he was put to death? No it does not." (You Can Live Forever on Paradise Earth, pp. 143-144).
"...the man Jesus is dead, forever dead..." (The Atonement Between God and Man, Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 5, 1899, p. 454).
"...the bodies in which Jesus manifested himself to the disciples after his return to life were not the body in which he was nailed to the tree." (The Kingdom is at Hand, 1944, p. 259).
If the Man, Jesus was not Raised, What Happened to the Body?
The question naturally arises, if, as the Watchtower assert, Jesus was not raised in the body He was born in, then what became of His body? The answer? - God disposed of it:
"The human body of flesh, which Jesus Christ laid down forever as a ransom sacrifice, was disposed of by God's power..." (Things in Which it is Impossible for God to Lie, 1965, p. 354).
"Disposing of Jesus' physical body at the time of his resurrection presented no problem for God." (Reasoning From the Scriptures, 1989, p. 217).That God disposed of the body of Jesus is the usual reply from Jehovah's Witnesses when asked about this subject. However, there are some rare instances when the Watchtower have expanded on this explanation, as the following quotation reveals that Jesus' fleshly body...
"was disposed of by Jehovah God, dissolved into its constituent elements or atoms." (The Watchtower, 1st October 1955, p. 518. Emphasis added.).
It is incredible that Jehovah's Witnesses arrive at these conclusions, especially when one considers the massive amount of biblical evidence to show that Jesus was raised in His actual body. In addition to this, it is equally incredible that Jehovah's Witnesses cannot point to a single Scripture that supports their belief that Jehovah God disposed of Jesus body in some way.
There are, however, two common texts that Jehovah's Witnesses cite when trying to find support for their denial of a physical bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus which we will briefly examine here.
The first of these texts is found in 1 Peter 3:18 which reads as follows in the New World Translation: "Why, even Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous [person] for the unrighteous ones, that he may lead you to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit." Jehovah's Witnesses, therefore view the latter part of this text, "...but being made alive in the spirit." as evidence that Jesus was raised as a spirit creature. But is this a correct understanding of this phrase? It is significant that this phrase states "in the spirit" rather than "as a spirit. The spirit referred to here is most probably the Holy Spirit, as He is certainly seen as being present at Christ's resurrection according to Romans 1:4 (NWT): "but who with power was declared God's Son according to the spirit of holiness by means of the resurrection from the dead - yes, Jesus Christ our Lord."
It is also worth noting that Romans 8:8-9 describes Christians who have their physical bodies now, as being "in spirit" (literal Greek of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, 1969). So if Christians can be described as having bodies now as "in spirit", it is no problem for the risen Christ to retain His powerful resurrected physical body and be described of as 'in the spirit'.
The other main Scripture passage that the Watchtower uses in an attempt to support their doctrine of Christ rising as a spirit creature is 1 Corninthians 15:44-46 which reads as follows in the New World Translation: "It is sown a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual one. It is even so written: " The first man Adam became a living soul." The last Adam became a life giving spirit. Nevertheless, the first is, not that which is spiritual, but that which is physical, afterward that which is spiritual." The whole point of 1 Corninthians 15:35-58 is that the natural body will be changed and raised up a powerful supernatural body. It is not as though what will be raised will be distinct from the physical body, rather, there will be a continuity. For example, verses 42-44 state how it (the body, not something else) will be raised up. It is sown a perishable, dishonorable, weak, and natural body. It (the same body) is raised up an imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual body. Verses 53-54 also states that the perishable mortal body will "put on" imperishability and immortality. By putting something on you are adding to what you already have.
It should also be pointed out that another popular objection that Jehovah’s Witnesses raise, when disputing the physical resurrection of Christ, is that they claim that Jesus simply manifested a physical looking body in the same way that angels did on some occasions: "Humans cannot see spirits, so the disciples evidently thought they were seeing an apparition or a vision (compare Mark 6:49, 50). Jesus assured them that he was no apparition; they could see his body of flesh and could touch him, feeling the bones; he also ate in their presence. Similarly, in the past, angels had materialized in order to be seen by men; they has eaten, and some had even married and fathered children (Gen. 6:4; 19:1-3)." (Reasoning From the Scriptures, pp. 334 -335). An excellent response to this line of reasoning is found in an article on the CARM website, where it is stated: "The problem with their view is that the angels were not incarnated. Jesus became a man by birth, therefore, He had a real, physical body, a permanent body. In fact, right now, Jesus is in heaven in the form of a man. He still has two natures, God and man, and will eternally be that." (CARM website "A Biblical Response to Jehovah's Witnesses")
Biblical Evidence for Christ's Physical Resurrection
The Bible is clear that when Jesus rose from the dead it was His actual body that rose, not some spirit creature:
Jesus Himself spoke of the resurrection of His own body on numerous occasions:
Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken." (John 2:19-22 emphasis added).
"And while they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst. But they were startled and frightened and thought they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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: 36-39)
"Then He said to Thomas, reach here your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand, and out it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing." (John 20:27)
The apostles recognized that it was Jesus' actual body that was raised up:
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazerene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders...you nailed to a cross...and God raised Him up again...This Jesus God raised up again...Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus who you crucified." (Acts 2:22, 24, 32, 36)
"The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one who you delivered up, and disowned before Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses." (Acts 3:13-15 emphasis added)
"because He [God] has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men, by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:31 emphasis added)
"For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 2:5 emphasis added)
Angels recognized that it was Jesus Himself who was raised, and not some spirit creature similar to themselves:
"And he [the angel] said to them [the disciples], "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazerene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him." (Mark 16:6, emphasis added)
Something that every Jehovah's Witness should realize is that through their insistence in denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus, they are denying the very core message of the Gospel and the salvation specifically spoken of in the book of Romans:
"that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Rom. 10:9)
Consequently, if Jehovah's Witnesses insist that Jesus was not raised from the dead, then it follows that, according to the above verse, they cannot possibly be saved.
Jehovah's Witnesses who will you believe? - the Watchtower, and its views expressed in its literature, or God, and what He Himself says in His Word about the resurrection of His Son? We cannot afford to be wrong on this vital doctrine, it is central to the Gospel message and our eternal destinies depend on it.
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