Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Resurrection Body
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:53NKJV
Question 52 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?” It gives the answer, “Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that not having seen corruption in death (of which it was not possible for him to be held), and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof, (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life), really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead: all which he did as a public person, the head of his Church, for their justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.” Last time we considered this question we looked at some of the consequences of Christ’s resurrection. Today we study the nature of His newly risen body.
Though Christ’s resurrection body was essentially the same one in which He had previously lived and died, the Westminster Divines set forth some significant differences gleaned from Scripture. First His resurrection body was “without mortality,” meaning that the risen Christ’s body is no longer subject to death. As we saw previously, because Jesus became incarnate in a body that was “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), He could still die though He was perfectly righteous and completely without sin. Jesus would have known all of the “other common infirmities belonging to this life,” things like sickness, injury, aging, infection, disease, etc. His resurrection body however was completely free from all of these things, and moreover was no longer able to be afflicted by any of them. Like a person inoculated against a plague cannot be infected by it, so Jesus in His risen state could not and can never again be liable to anything that is part and parcel to the fallen state of man.
Additionally, when Jesus rose again His body was “really united to His soul.” This means that Christ’s resurrection body was not some wispy, temporal, unreal phantom that he only appeared in for our sakes but then would “lose it” once His resurrection appearances were completed. No, not at all! Jesus is true and real man. He really took upon Himself a human nature at His incarnation in the womb of Mary and that means His human nature will and must continue to exist fully human forever! And human beings are body and soul. The soulless state of the departed saints is temporal and incomplete. Scripture speaks of it as being “unclothed” (2 Cor. 5:4) and a time of waiting (Rev. 6:9-11). We are taught to long for the resurrection of the dead (Phi. 3:11), when the dead in Christ will rise first and the living will be caught up in the air with them as the Lord Jesus descends with a shout (1 The. 4:14-17). The new heavens and new earth are clearly described as physical realities that will be home to physical human beings who will dwell in a city with buildings, streets, trees, and rivers, and they will eat, speak, live, and move (Rev. 21). Furthermore, their bodies will be like Christ’s risen body, immortal and perfect as the verse at the head of this article declares.
However, though we get a clear account of Jesus’ resurrection body in the ten resurrection appearances mentioned in Scripture, we are also distinctly told that Christ’s body was to enter into a more glorious state once He ascended into heaven. We get a glimpse of this greater glory at the transfiguration when Jesus’ face shone like the sun (Matt. 17:2), and a detailed description of it in Revelation chapter one where His hair is like snow, His feet like polished brass, and His eyes as a flame of fire. There are many things we do not know about the resurrection body of Christ or about our own future resurrection bodies. But one thing we know for certain: because He rose again in a body that was in one sense His old body, and yet at the same time was totally renewed, perfect, and glorious, so also we will rise again in these same bodies, yet they will be completely renewed, perfected, immortal, and glorious!