(Following a discussion I recently (April, 2014) had with some fellow preachers, the observations made below are prompted by my re-reading of Murray Harris’ From Grave to Glory, Grand Rapids, 1990, and Norman Geisler’s updated version of The Battle for the Resurrection, Nashville, 1992. The basic presupposition of Harris is that the same body of Jesus was raised from the dead and transformed (p.xxv). The central thesis of Geisler is that Jesus rose in the same material body of flesh and bones in which he died (pp.27,220). The idea entertained by Harris that Jesus was transformed at his resurrection from the dead is widespread. However, it seems to involve inherent contradiction and encounters insurmountable obstacles as indicated below. By contrast Geisler stresses bodily continuity and would have his readers believe, despite 1 Corinthians 15:50, that Jesus is flesh (incarnate) even in heaven. For him sin is the only problem (see e.g. page 122).)
First, after his resurrection Jesus himself asserts in unmistakable language that he is still flesh and bones (Luke 24:39; John 20:26-29, cf. 1 John 1:1-3, cf. Heb. 12:18-21). Since he could be seen, touched and heard, the inference is that apart from his scars he is unchanged.
Second, since Jesus does not undergo corruption (Acts 2:27,31;13:36), he clearly remains flesh throughout his stay on earth. Unless he had two bodies, this would appear to preclude the sporadic post-resurrection appearances from heaven argued for by Harris.
Third, in accordance with his fleshly nature, Jesus is visible, tangible, audible (John 20:26-29, etc.), physically mobile and eats perishable food (Acts 10:41). In light of this it is reasonable to conclude that he continues to age (Luke 2:12; 3:23; John 8:57) and, though exempt from death (that is, not subject to death on account of sin, cf. Rom.8:10), he remains both mortal and corruptible like all earthly creatures. Denial of this is docetism.
Fourth, Paul says that transformation (1 Cor. 15:53), like regeneration (John 3:7), is a universal necessity (Gk dei) for the obvious reason that perishable flesh and blood cannot inherit the imperishable kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). However, resurrection transformation (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 52b-53) occurs only to those who die and undergo corruption like David (Acts 2:27; 13:36). Since Jesus did not experience corruption, he is thereby excluded. In Acts 2 and 13 he is portrayed in patent contrast with David.
(Over the years I have been astonished at writers who claim that Jesus’ resurrection provides the model or paradigm of ours. It clearly does nothing of the sort. Jesus was raised uncorrupted and hence still corruptible. Our corrupted bodies have to be redeemed, Rom. 8:23, that is, subjected to resurrection transformation. Just as they are destroyed, so they are transformed into heavenly, 2 Cor. 5:1, or, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15, spiritual bodies, or bodies of glory, Phil. 3:21. Of course the source of so much confusion is the clearly erroneous idea that Jesus’ resurrected body remained the same, even flesh, but transformed, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one! This is what Geisler was apparently rightly railing against.)
Fifth, again according to Paul, the end-time saints who do not die and experience resurrection must be changed at their ascension (1 Cor. 15:51). Since Jesus rose uncorrupted flesh from the grave and, according to John 20:17, had not yet ascended, he too must have been transformed at his ascension. It was at this time that he put off his lowly body of flesh and put on his body of glory (Phil. 3:20f., cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-49). This we ourselves will see and be conformed to in heaven (John 17:24, cf. Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:2).
Sixth, if this is true, Jesus’ resurrection celebrates his victory over death and his ascension his triumph over corruption (2 Tim. 1:10, cf. 1 Cor. 15:53). In light of this, it is important to add here that most translations of the Bible fail to distinguish between death and corruption in Romans 1:23, 2:7, 1 Timothy 1:17 and 2 Timothy 1:10. These may be complementary (Harris, p.261) but they are certainly not synonymous*. This being so, the title of Harris’ earlier book which is named on the basis of 1 Corinthians 15:52 (it appears in Greek prior to Contents) should have been Raised Incorruptible and not Raised Immortal (Basingstoke, 1983), since it refers to mankind’s universal ascension transformation. In 1 Corinthians 15:53 as in 2 Timothy 1:10, Paul distinguishes between death and corruption (cf. 1 Tim. 1:17 and 6:16).
This observation, however, also points up the fallacy of Geisler’s claim that only sinful flesh, not flesh as such, which being naturally corruptible is excluded from heaven. Furthermore, it undermines his attempt to argue that creation itself is redeemed since he rightly assumes that if the flesh is saved, so is the creation from which it stems (pp.32f.,41,122, etc.). However, it follows from this as surely as night follows day that if the flesh is not saved, neither is the creation from which it stems.
Seventh, Jesus’ resurrection was not intrinsic to his incarnation and earthly life. In order to experience resurrection he had to die, but by keeping the law as man (Lev. 18:5) he had gained (eternal) life at his baptism (John 1:32) and transcended the death which for others was the wages of sin (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). However, he freely gave his natural life (psyche, or flesh in Col. 1:22) in death for his people (John 10:17f.). In light of this we are forced to infer that his resurrection was extrinsic and not intrinsic, that is, a natural necessity, unlike his regeneration (John 3:3-8) and ascension transformation (1 Cor. 15:50-53). Had he not died and been raised on our behalf, he would have been like a sinless but nonetheless dusty Adam (1 Cor. 15:47-49) and necessarily changed at his ascension.
There is another point here. If Jesus was changed at his resurrection, he never completed his earthly life as others do despite the fact that Scripture says he was made perfect (complete) forever (Heb. 7:28). He was, in other words, docetic, that is, different from all others even apart from sin (Heb. 2:17; 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22), and not what he appeared to be.
Eighth, if Jesus was transformed at his resurrection but still flesh (cf. Luke 24:39, etc.), he could not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50) and the eternal blessings of David (Acts 13:34). The inherently contradictory nature of this line of thought ought to be plain for all to see.
Ninth, this points unerringly to the fact that Jesus’ putative resurrection transformation has no possible connection with the so-called transformation of the visible creation (cf. Harris, ch. X11). In any case, the naturally perishable (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Heb. 1:10-12) cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50b), pace Geisler again (pp.32f.,41,122) who like Augustine thinks sin is the only barrier. Since the visible material (Rom. 1:20) is by nature impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18) and destined to destruction (Mt. 24:35; Heb. 12:27), our hope is a better (Heb. 7:19), living, (1 Pet. 1:3) invisible hope (Rom. 8:20,24f.; 2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1).
Tenth, according to both Jesus and Paul, flesh is unprofitable (John 6:63; Rom. 7:18; 8:8; 2 Cor. 4:16-18, etc.), and all it can ultimately inherit like the rest of the manufactured (made by hand) creation is corruption (decay) (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8, cf. Mt. 4:4; John 6:27,49, 58, etc.), pace Geisler. The entire animal world which is naturally, that is, apart from sin, mortal and corruptible is testament to this. There is therefore no such animal (!) as transformed or glorified flesh (cf. John 3:6; 6:63; Rom. 7:18; 1 Cor. 15:50b) pace both Harris (pp.413f.) and Geisler (pp.41,185). The very notion is intolerable, not to say absurd. It implies the erroneous and deeply misleading Augustinian worldview in which sin is the only problem. The so-called originally perfect world which was cursed as a consequence of Adam’s sin never existed except in the minds of its inventors and their uncritical followers. The present age/world like the provisional and temporary old covenant which related to it (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13) was doomed from the beginning (Gen.1:1) to ultimate removal (Isa. 51:6; 54:10; Mt. 24:35; Rom. 8:20; Heb. 12:27) and replacement by the age to come (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; Rev. 11:15, cf. Luke 1:32f., etc.).
Finally, on reflection, there is a flaw in my own thinking. Having rightly sensed that a transformation is not a resurrection, I originally assumed that Harris’ prime error was to minimize the importance of the intrinsically necessary ascension transformation by reducing it to parable or drama (pp.423f., etc.). In fact, by asserting that Jesus went directly from grave to glory, he implicitly denies the resurrection altogether and undermines the case for Christianity (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Geisler, on the other hand, though rightly affirming the physical resurrection of Jesus argues that he remains flesh (incarnate) even in heaven apart from which God’s plan of salvation has suffered defeat (pp.33,167)!!! Clearly he has totally misunderstood the nature of creation, which is significantly referred to as temporary in contrast with its eternal Creator as early as Genesis 1:1, and misconstrued God’s plan of salvation. Furthermore, in adopting this stance he also implicitly denies the ascension transformation which Paul claims is universally indispensable because flesh is corruptible by nature (1 Cor. 15:50), that is, by divine decree (Rom. 8:20).
I conclude then that neither position is acceptable. They are both flagrantly flawed and catastrophically confused. Why? Because, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, they are geared to fit into a false covenant framework and into an Augustinian universe quite alien to that portrayed in the Bible.
* A story from classical mythology illustrates the difference. The goddess Aurora fell in love with Tithon and asked Jupiter to make him immortal. The request was granted. The trouble was that she forgot to ask also for his eternal youth (incorruptibility) with the result that he constantly grew older and, as the author of Hebrews puts it, was ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13). So she put him in his chamber and changed him into a grasshopper.
(See further my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities, Death and Corruption, The Corruptibility Of Creation, The Destruction of the Material Creation, The Transience of Creation, Creation Corruptible By Nature, Cosmic Curse?, Bondage, Covenant Theology in Brief, Not Only But Also, Are Believers Butterflies?, Does Romans Teach Original Sin?, Death Before Genesis 3, Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?, Romans 8:18-25, Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?, John Stott on the Putative Resurrection Transformation of Jesus, Geisler on the Redemption of Creation, Worldview, Augustine: Asset or Liability?, Some Implications of the Redemption of Creation etc.)