Adam Blosser is pastor of Drakes Branch Baptist Church in Drakes Branch, Virginia, and blogs at ONE True Joy, where this article appeared on Monday.
Today, I sent out a tweet and a Facebook status about a popular song that is sung in many churches, including my own, this time of year. I like the song. I have fond memories of singing it standing by my grandmother’s side at Buckingham Baptist Church. Grandma could be heard singing “He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way” as she moved through the house or went for a walk outside.
The song I am referring to is “He Lives,” #533 in the 1991 edition of the Baptist Hymnal. The line that I called into question says, “You ask me how I know He lives: He lives within my heart.” I have to admit that I cringe a little when I sing this line, but my intent here is not to dog the song. I want to help us think about the historical evidence for the resurrection and the absolute necessity of a bodily resurrection.
My issue is not with the accuracy of the statement in the song. As one commenter pointed out, Colossians 1:27 does teach that Christ is within the believer. My hesitancy regarding this line of the song is caused by the feeling that it gives a poor answer to the question that it asks.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the best apologetic that Christians have in my estimation. If Jesus is alive, He is God and has a right to demand my worship. If Jesus is not alive, He is just another man that lived a long time ago with no authority in my life. Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).
The lyric from the song, while not intending to argue for a spiritual resurrection, leaves that option open. An adherence to a spiritual resurrection of Jesus is seen in those whose rationalistic worldviews will not allow them to affirm the bodily resurrection. The biblical accounts know nothing of a merely spiritual resurrection. Paul was certainly not talking about a spiritual resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:17.
Let me give six biblical arguments for the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1. The body was gone from the tomb (John 20:1-10; Matthew 28:11-15).
John tells us in his Gospel that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb very early and found the stone to be rolled away. She immediately left and reported back to Peter and John. They went running to the tomb only to find that the body of Jesus was not there. Even the guards who were charged with keeping watch over the tomb testified that the tomb was empty. Had the Gospel writers intended to communicate that Jesus’ resurrection was merely spiritual, why the focus on the missing body?
2. Jesus physically appeared to many people (John 20:11-29; 21:1-23; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
John tells us of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on several occasions. He also tells us that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. We know that this was a physical appearance because she mistook Him for the gardener (John 20:15). We are also told in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to over 500 men at one time. As if to validate his claim, Paul says that most of them were still alive; you could go and ask them.
3. Thomas was able to touch Jesus’ hands and side (John 20:24-29).
When the other disciples declared to Thomas that Jesus was alive, he swore not to believe it unless he could touch the hands and side of Jesus. Eight days later, Jesus appeared to Thomas and the other disciples. Thomas was able to touch the hands and side of Jesus. This would not have been possible had Jesus only been raised spiritually.
4. Jesus ate (John 21:1-14; Luke 24:36-43).
John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus cooked a breakfast of bread and fish for the disciples. It does not tell us that Jesus ate though. Luke, however, tells us that Jesus proved that He was physically standing before His disciples by taking a piece of broiled fish and eating it before them. Spirits don’t eat. Embodied people do.
5. Jesus physically ascended (Acts 1:6-11).
The straightforward reading of Acts 1 demonstrates that Jesus was physically present with His disciples prior to His ascension. He spoke to them with final instructions to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. Then He physically ascended into heaven.
6. Jesus is physically coming back (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 21-22).
We are told in Ephesians 1 that Jesus is right now seated at the right hand of the Father. The Scriptures also testify to the fact that He will return. He will return to bring judgment on those who remain in their sin. He will establish a new physical dwelling place for those who are in Christ where we will dwell with God, and He will dwell with us. The physical resurrection of Jesus is our hope of a future physical resurrection. Christ is the firstfruits.
I trust that this list gives you confidence that the Bible teaches the bodily resurrection of Jesus. But is a resurrection the best explanation for the empty tomb? Can we trust the biblical record? I will argue in my next post later in the week that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is in fact the best explanation for the empty tomb.