Monday, April 25, 2011

Where Is Jesus' Resurrected Body?

I've received some emailed questions over the last couple of weeks, the answers to which I'd like to share with you (because they are good questions!). Here is the first query:
After Jesus's resurrection and ascension into heaven, where did his physical body go? I realize that when I ask that question I'm actually asking two questions: 1. the nature of Jesus's body and how it works in another state 2. did Jesus go to Heaven, and if so, what is Heaven? If it is just a spiritual place how could Jesus's physical body exist there? If he is simply with the Father, who is spirit, where is his physical body?
__________, thanks for messaging, and good questions!

First, What is heaven? Heaven, simply put, is the place where God is and where his will is done perfectly. We often think of it as being "in the sky" because the way entrance to it is described in the New Testament, but those are likely figures of speech simply to indicate that heaven is a place that is spiritually "higher" than the earth.

However, heaven is not simply a place of disembodied habitation. It is a real place, even if invisible to us now, where God who is spirit presides, along with the saints who have passed before us, as well as of course his glorified Son Jesus.

The best parallel I can think of as to what heaven is like is the land of Narnia in CS Lewis's storybooks. Narnia is a universe of itself within our more familiar universe. So in Narnia, there are countries and continents and seas and skies and suns and moons. But the children in the stories access this entire universe through a portal in *this* universe (through the wardrobe, or into a painting, etc). Heaven is like that. It is a real space that has tangibility and physicality, where people walk and play and sing and live, except it doesn't "take up space." Scientifically put, perhaps it exists in higher dimensions than the 4 dimensions the world we see exists in.

All that leads up to your original question:
What happened to Jesus' body when he ascended to heaven?

The answer is that he took it with him. It was not left behind. We don't *need* to shed our skins, so to speak, to enter heaven. When we die here, our bodies are buried, and some part of us -- sometimes called our soul or our spirit -- goes to be present with the Lord in heaven. But that is only a very small part of the story. The plan God has for the "afterlife" isn't really about our bodies being dead and our souls being in disembodied bliss in heaven. The real hope of "life after death" is a restored creation -- called "the new heavens and the new earth" (see Revelation) -- and we are going to receive our bodies back, only this time glorified and perfect -- in the resurrection to come (see 1 Corinthians 15, among others).

So the big plan God has for being in heaven with him, is that we will actually eventually reside in the new heavens and new earth -- the restored earth, unstained by sin or brokenness -- in glorified bodies like Jesus' body. (This is what Jesus is praying for in the Lord's Prayer when he asks that the Father's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And this is what Habakkuk is getting at when he says someday the earth will be full of the knowledge of God's glory like the waters cover the sea.) Before Christ's second coming, we are going to heaven. But at his second coming, heaven comes to earth.

Paul calls Jesus' resurrection the "firstfruits" of our resurrection. So we will have bodies like Jesus' body. Similar but different. Tangible but Spiritual. Able to be touched, to eat food, to laugh and play -- but able to walk through locked doors and the like.

At the moment, Jesus is in heaven in his resurrected body. (I imagine Enoch and Elijah are as well, since they didn't die on earth but were taken up in their bodies into heaven.)

I know this kind of heaven is not what we are often led to conceive of when the church speaks of heaven. But it is the picture of heaven we actually get in the Bible. The reality is that heaven is truer, realer, and thicker with beauty than this world, not less so.

If I could recommend a book to you, I would suggest a book simply titled *Heaven* by Randy Alcorn.


Tim Bertolet said...

Thanks for this,
I've often thought about the significance of the ascension of Christ and find that it is somewhat missing in evangelical reflection today.

The fact that Christ's body is in heaven says something about the nature of heaven. A with all the emerging, emergent, postmodern and whatever that tries to re-conceptualize heaven-- the fact that Jesus is bodily in heaven should tell us something about heaven and what it is that descends in the new heavens and new earth.

Anonymous said...

One thing that still astounds me today is that Jesus is already in his resurrected body, and we are not. Jesus still has his scars. This means that as we receive new bodies free of scars, Jesus is the only one in Heaven who will retain his scars!! It's a sign of his covenant.

John 20 shows how Christ still had his scars in his resurrected body. There are other passages that point to this, but John 20 is the most familiar to people.

Anonymous said...

Another question:

Is Jesus the only one with a body in heaven at the present time?

Jared said...

No, as I mentioned, I think Enoch and Elijah would be there in glorified bodies too. Perhaps others, who knows?