I read an article recently in a well-respected publication that was trying to explain why Mary and some of Jesus’ other disciples didn’t recognize Him immediately after His resurrection. Aside from the obvious fact that they still didn’t understand the Old Testament prophesies concerning His death and resurrection quite yet, that author attributed their lack of recognition to some kind of “physical changes” in His body, as if He had suddenly become some kind of “other“. Did that mean He was no longer “completely-human“? WHAT???
“Docetism“, the belief that Jesus was not truly and fully-human, has been around for almost two millenniums, and our churches are frequently infected with “docetism-lite“, such that, while not outrightly-denying His true and full humanity, they have trouble handling the “details” of His humanity. While Docetics would prefer a body-less resurrection, they will accept a bodily-resurrection, as long as God leaves the parts they don’t like behind. SO, what parts would they “leave-behind“? The parts they like to cover with “fig-leaves“?
This insidious “otherization” of Jesus even shows up in our Christmas carols where we don’t even give it a second-thought. Do you recognize these lyrics?
The cattle are lowing the baby awakes
But little lord Jesus no crying he makes.
I love you lord Jesus; look down from the sky
And stay by my side until morning is nigh.
That is the second stanza of “Away In A Manger“. Am I being overly-picky, or not? What our kids hear and learn growing-up becomes part of the building-blocks of their theology later in life, so if they grow up accepting this “otherization” of Jesus, that there might have been some “changes” to His body when He was resurrected doesn’t raise any red-flags, but it does for me, because I have been studying Christology and realize how important it is.
Maybe Barbie and Ken are their ideal-prototypes…
I have found the Heidelberg Catechism quite helpful in its concise explanation. In question 16, we read:
Q: Why must he be a true and righteous man?
A: He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner he cannot pay for others.
The answer here is focusing on the need for a real human nature. Why? Because the penalty for sin requires suffering in body and soul. And only a human can do this (cf. Heb. 2:14; John 12:27). Jesus did not only share in our nature, but also he had to identify with us in the experiences of the fall (Heb. 2:17-18). But it was essential that Christ himself did not sin in this identification with us. Otherwise, how could he pay for our sin? Berkhof writes, “Only such a truly human Mediator, who had experimental knowledge of the woes of mankind and rose superior to all temptations, could enter sympathetically into all the experiences, the trials, and the temptations of man (Heb. 2:17, 18; 4:15-5:2) and be a perfect human example for his followers (Matt. 11:29; Mark 10:39; John 13:13-15; Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 12:2-4; 1 Pet. 2:21). L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 319.
In short, the answer is Jesus had to be a man so that he could identify with us, suffering in our place and sympathizing with us in our weakness.
We don’t need for Jesus to have undergone some kind of “changes” during His resurrection to be able to explain why Mary and some of His disciples didn’t recognize Him immediately. When Mary went to the tomb, she was looking for a BODY, a DEAD-BODY, not her living Lord. She had seen Him die and be buried, so she was still convinced that He was as dead as a stone. People didn’t survive crucifixion. Period! The same was true of His other disciples. They knew that He was DEAD. STONE-COLD-DEAD! John and four women, including His mother and Mary, were at the foot of the cross when He breathed His last, so when He appeared to them, that He could possibly be alive was a TOTALLY-LUDICROUS.
Shortly before Jesus’ own death, burial and resurrection, John, in John 11:1-44, recorded the death, burial and resurrection of Lazarus. Why does this matter? There were two people present at all three events, Mary and Martha. They had nursed him while he was sick, they had prepared his body for burial, and they had buried him, so if there was something “different” about after his resurrection, they would have been the first to notice it, but there wasn’t. The Lazarus who was raised from the dead was the same Lazarus they had buried just a few days earlier. Why would Jesus’ resurrection have been any different? Jesus’ disciples knew Him as intimately as Mary and Martha knew Lazarus, so they would have been the first to notice that there was something “different” about Him, but they didn’t record anything.
It isn’t until later in the New Testament that we read about “glorified-bodies“…
When I lost my first wife in 1997, I did NOT know unequivocally whose body was in that casket. I did not witness her death, even though I saw evidence that something had happened in our home, and I never saw her dead-body because it was a closed-casket funeral, for which I had no hand in making the arrangements. All I had was a piece of paper, a “Death Certificate“, which already had fraudulent-information on it that I had to have corrected. I lived with the nagging question of whether her “death” was a cruel-hoax for many years, particularly since I continued to receive mail addressed to her for several years even after I had moved over a thousand miles away. That was NOT the case with Jesus. His death was witnessed by many people, including the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. Joseph and Nicodemus had prepared His body for burial and buried Him, events that were witnessed by others.
We DO affirm that there WAS a certain “otherness” about Jesus, because He IS the incarnate Son of God, the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14), very God of very God, Creator-God, but that did NOT diminish His humanity. No other person in all of history has been BOTH God and Man, but His favorite title for Himself was “Son of man“.
We also know, from the Gospels, that Jesus, after His resurrection, exhibited capabilities He had not displayed before, such as the ability to appear and disappear at-will. Did that make Him any less human. Absolutely-not! He still ate and drank…
Does it REALLY mater?
In a word, YES, because His resurrection body was His ascension body, and the rest of the New Testament makes it very clear that we have our own flesh-and-blood in Heaven, with all His parts intact. making intercession for us. SO, we either do our own flesh-and-blood, with all His parts intact, or we don’t. If part of that “change” was that He no longer has all His parts intact, then Jesus is no longer HUMAN. He is an “other“, a “changeling“, and is a worthless mediator, and our “salvation” is worthless.
What we believe concerning Jesus Christ DOES matter, because, unless we have a fully-qualified Savior, we have no Savior at all, which required that His humanity be genuine.
Sola Deo Gloria,