(I have appended a note on Stott’s view to my Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?. But such is the importance of the subject that I add the following.)
Stott touches on this subject in a variety of places (e.g. The Message of Acts, p.191, Romans, pp.227-241, The Incomparable Christ, p.224, Issues Facing Christians Today, pp.62f.; 432ff., etc.) but he goes into detail especially in his The Contemporary Christian (ch.4, pp.70-85). Though I have added a lengthy note on his views in my essay Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave? Stott has proved so prolific and influential a writer that I deliberately cross swords with him again in the belief that the Christian faith as such is at stake.
On page 72, in a spirited attack on the views of Dr David Jenkins the Bishop of Durham (in the late eighties and early nineties), Stott tells us that his resurrection involved the transformation of the body of Jesus which is what the Church of England has always believed and taught. Fatefully, despite his commitment to the inspiration and authority of the Bible, he fails to question this tradition.
On page 73 he says that the resurrection becomes an experience for us because it was, first, an event which actually inaugurated a new order of reality. While this is obviously true in the sense that without the resurrection of Jesus there would be no future (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-28), it is not true in the sense that he apparently intends. He offers no evidence to support his contention.
Then on the same page Stott informs us that the risen Lord is not a resuscitated corpse. True, the words resuscitation and resurrection are not synonyms but nonetheless, apparently with the intention of highlighting and differentiating Jesus’ own resurrection, Stott refers misleadingly to the three ‘resuscitations’ Jesus performed during his public ministry. The truth is, however, that these three are referred to as genuine resurrections from the dead and clearly comparable with his own resurrection. For example, the daughter of Jairus was seen and touched if not heard when her spirit returned to her, but significantly she ate at Jesus’ own direction (Luke 8:55). In Luke 24 Jesus himself after his resurrection is heard, touched and seen eating (vv.36-42; Acts 10:41). In light of this, it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that if Jairus’ daughter was not transformed, neither was Jesus.
Next, Stott correctly tells us that Jesus was not brought to life with the need to die again. From this he strangely concludes that the Lord’s body was not the same vulnerable, mortal body of flesh that was buried. (1* On this see my The Resurrection Glorification of Jesus.) Jesus, he says, was now raised to a new plane of existence, no longer mortal but ‘alive for ever and ever’. There are big problems here. First, if the raised body was not the buried body, then the resurrection never occurred and we have all been deceived. Alternatively expressed, a physically resurrected body is not a transformed body. It was not in Lazarus’ case and it was not in Jesus’ case. Secondly, the fact that he was permanently alive does not mean that he was immortal. How could he be if he was still flesh (Luke 24:39) which is mortal by nature (Rom. 6:12; 8:11; 2 Cor. 4:11, etc.)? What it means is that he was now immune to death. Indeed, he had been so since the day he had been born again and received the Spirit at his baptism. And, that he was still physical flesh and not immortal is proved conclusively by the fact that he freely died ‘once for all’ (Heb. 7:27) on our behalf. Precisely because it was on our behalf and not for his own sins, death had no permanent claim on him (Acts 2:23f.). So once he had been raised from the dead after making his voluntary and vicarious sacrifice, all that remained for him to do, apart from providing evidence of his resurrection and encouraging his disciples, was to ascend transformed to heaven thereby consummating his original incarnation transformation. In this way he was able to receive his eternal kingdom which he clearly could not do unchanged on this temporal earth (Luke 1:32f., cf. Mark 10:30, etc.).
Dr. Stott then tells us on page 76 that the resurrection gave Jesus a transformed, transfigured, glorified body. The evidence for this is by no means apparent. First, as we have seen, if he was transformed he was not truly resurrected. Second, his transfiguration must have been remarkably low key even in comparison with that which occurred on the mountain since no one apparently noticed or even mentioned it (cf. Mt. 17:1f.). And, third, he could not have been glorified (except in the sense of being honoured, e.g. John 14:13; 2 Pet. 1:17, contrast 7:39) since he could be seen, and this means his body was not permanent (2 Cor. 4:18). And an impermanent glorified body is an absurdity, an oxymoron.
On the same page Dr. Stott tells us that Jesus’ body was endowed with new powers possessing immortality. How does he know? There is no evidence of new powers, and, as I have already said, if he was still flesh, he could not have been immortal. Jesus himself maintained that though the spirit is willing the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41). But despite his own weakness in the flesh (2 Cor. 13:4), he nonetheless triumphed (Rom. 8:3) as indeed he had to do if he was to be our redeemer.
Dr. Stott then tells us on page 77 that a spiritual body does not contradict the evidence that the resurrected Jesus had a physical body. First, where are we told that Jesus’ body was spiritual? Jesus actually goes out of his way to prove that it was nothing of the sort (Luke 24:39; John 20:26-29). He flatly denies that he is any more a ghost than when he walked on the sea prior to his death (Mt. 14:26).
Second, in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 Paul (a) clearly contrasts dust (earth) with spirit (heaven), and (b) regards the two bodies as successive, the former being replaced by the latter (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1). In plain words, the body of dust is replaced by a body of spirit and glory. Our author then goes on to state rightly that the resurrection was a physical and historical event, but then on page 78 he asserts that when the body was raised it was changed in the process. This, however, is to jump the gun, for transformation or glorification as I understand it takes place beyond history (cf. John 7:39; Rom. 8:30): it is plainly trans-historical. Put otherwise, Stott’s assertion is an inference based on his errant traditional worldview for which there is only highly questionable evidence at best.
On pages 84f. (cf. p.176), on the basis of his unproved and obviously contradictory assertion that the resurrected body of Jesus was still physical but transformed, our author proceeds to argue for the regeneration of the universe despite the fact that we are taught that the naturally perishable cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:6). At this point we encounter even bigger problems and it is necessary to elaborate. First, in John 3:1-8, one of the best known but historically one of the most lamentably misinterpreted passages in the Bible, Jesus in contrast with Nicodemus indubitably denies physical regeneration. In light of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50 regarding the impossibility of flesh and blood entering the kingdom of God, the reason is obvious: the flesh is intrinsically perishable and ephemeral like the ‘hand-written’ law that relates to it (Rom. 7:1; Heb. 7:16-19; 8:13; 9:8-10; Col. 2:14). Second, as far as I can judge, Scripture nowhere suggests that there is any connection or correspondence between the physical resurrection of Jesus and the regeneration of creation. (2* Harris’ attempt to find one in Romans 8:18-25; Philippians 3:20f. and 1 Cor. 15:20-28 is singularly unconvincing, From Grave to Glory, pp.245-252.) On the contrary, my Bible tells me categorically that all created things which have a beginning (Gen. 1:1), hence an end (Mt. 24:35; 1 John 2:17) and are ‘made by hand’ (Isa. 45:11f.; Heb. 1:10, etc.) are perishable by nature, and that once they have served their purpose, they will be destroyed (Rom. 1:20; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). In any case, when the intended harvest has been reaped the world loses its raison d’etre (cf. Mt. 13:38-40; Luke 17:28-30). After all, it was created to be inhabited (Gen. 1:26-28; Isa. 45:12,18). Like the body of flesh (tent) it is dead without the spirit (Spirit) (James 2:26). This being so, Jesus himself who had a body of flesh which lay dead in the tomb until his spirit returned to it had necessarily to be changed and glorified at his ascension (cf. Phil. 3:21).
Again on page 84 our author says that Jesus is going to return ‘in spectacular magnificence’. (Stott apparently believes that Jesus will return to earth as Moses returned to Egypt. See Authentic Christianity, p.251) How come? After all, even though he was putatively transformed when he was raised, he looked remarkably ordinary, like a gardener in fact (John 20:15). How and where then did he acquire the splendour associated with the majesty of God? To ask the question is virtually to answer it. Just as Jesus had insisted without reference to sin that as perishable flesh it is necessary (Gk dei) to be born again (John 3:7), so Paul maintains also without reference to sin that it is necessary as perishable flesh to be changed at ascension (1 Cor. 15:53). This of course reminds us of the difference between the manifestly physical Jesus that Peter and the others saw after the resurrection and the glorified Jesus that Paul saw on his way to Damascus (Acts 9,22,26). (Paul was apparently struck blind to save him as Moses had been saved long before from death, Ex. 33:18-23.) Still on page 84 Stott stresses “an impressively ‘material’ expectation for both the individual and for the cosmos” based on the physical transformation of Jesus at his resurrection. But where is the evidence for his physical transformation? This prompts me to point out that if the premise is wrong, so is the conclusion. They stand or fall together. If Jesus was not transformed at his resurrection (and since he was visible and tangible, he certainly was not), then the world will not be either. Stott has simply blurred, or rather eroded, the distinction between heaven and earth, the eternal and the temporal, the invisible and the visible, the imperishable and the perishable, spirit and flesh, throne and footstool and between new covenant and old covenant. The latter point is crucial: he has failed to perceive the difference between the two (see e.g. 2 Cor. 3), and as a consequence has tried to pour new wine into old wineskins. At the end of the day for Stott, an Augustinian to the core, sin is the only differentiating factor.
At this stage of my critique it is important to stress that Jesus could not possibly have been transformed in the flesh. Throughout the Bible the flesh, though not evil as such, is almost always regarded pejoratively (e.g. Gen. 2:7; 3:19; 6:3; 2 Chr. 32:8; Ps. 78:39; 103:14; 118:8; Isa. 29:16; 31:3; Jer. 17:5). According to Paul, in order to become flesh Jesus had to abase himself, be transformed (incarnated) and lay aside his divine glory (Phil. 2:7f.). Thus in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 the apostle claims that our present fleshly bodies are perishable, weak, dishonourable and natural and as such they cannot be changed (15:50, cf. John 3:6). Flesh like clay, dust and grass is inherently transient like the earth from which it derives and cannot be eternalized. Throughout Scripture grass is exploited as a symbol of death and corruption (Isa. 40:6-8) and whatever feeds on it is likewise perishable (John 6:22-63; Rom. 1:23, cf. Ps. 106:20). In 1 Peter 1:23-25 this is given as the reason why we need to be born again (cf. John 3:1-8). But there is another point: in Galatians 4:29f. Paul, in contrast with Jesus who refers to sin in John 8:35, tells us that the reason why Ishmael cannot receive the inheritance is that he is the fleshly child of the slave woman. In other words, unlike Isaac the child of promise, he is in permanent bondage to his flesh which is corruptible by nature. Indeed, like Adam and Esau he symbolizes the flesh for which there is decisively no ultimate future.
Despite the fact that Jesus tells us that God is spirit (John 4:24), Dr Stott seems to have a morbid fear of what he calls an ‘ethereal’ heaven which for him apparently lacks substance! (3* By contrast F.F. Bruce, p.13, G.D Fee, p.343, etc., and W.L.Lane, p.330f., for example, regard the material world as passing. Cf. 1 Tim. 6:12,19. J.B.Phillips also makes some relevant comments on reality, pp.64-70.) What he has failed to consider is that in eternity before his incarnation Jesus himself in his divine nature enjoyed eternal life there. And it is Jesus himself who talks of the glory that he shared with his Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:5). Furthermore, he clearly anticipates regaining that glory on his return to his Father (John 17:24). How could he possibly sit at the right hand of consuming fire as combustible flesh (Isa. 33:14; James 5:3, cf. Heb. 12:26-29)? Since divine glory and beauty are spiritual (cf. Isa. 33:17; 1 Pet. 3:4), so Jesus’ glory must be spiritual. And if Jesus’ glory is spiritual, ours must be too (Phil. 3:21, 1 Pet. 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:4). (It ought not to pass without notice that even in the comparatively materialistic OT, the qualities needed for life are spiritual: Ps. 15; 24; 34:12-14; Isa. 33:14-16, etc.) Let us thank God for this for the physical world in which we presently live is a place of testing and of affliction even apart from sin (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17), a place from which we like Jesus are intended to escape (cf. Gal. 1:4). For us, loving this ephemeral world (1 John 2:17) is like the Israelites loving Egypt and wishing to return there — to re-experience bondage and death (Num. 11:4ff., cf. Dt. 17:16; 28:68). And as Hosea makes clear, return to Egyptian heathenism spelt punishment (Hos. 8:13, cf. 9:3,6).
God, and his word, abides forever because he is eternal spirit not temporal flesh. Jesus was incarnate only ‘for a little while’ (Heb. 2:7,9, cf. 2 Cor. 4:17). And Paul says it is ‘far better’ to be with Christ than to remain in the flesh (Phil. 1:23f.). (4* On the new heavens and new earth see my Will Creation Be Redeemed?)
It is vitally important here to insist that just as all without exception (and so including the incarnate Jesus) must (Gk dei) be born again (John 3:7), so all without exception (including Jesus) must be changed at ascension (1 Cor. 15:53). In view of this, it is hardly surprising that as our Saviour, Jesus brought both life (regeneration) and incorruption (transformation) to light (2 Tim. 1:10). It is a major mistake then to imagine as many writers do that the resurrection bodies of those of us who like David see corruption are patterned on that of the risen Jesus who was still flesh and did not see corruption prior to his transformation (see Acts 2 and 13). (5* If Jesus was changed at his resurrection, where do those who die and succumb to corruption (decay) fit in? Are they lost forever? Jesus who did not die (for his own sins) and see corruption cannot be our resurrection model. Paul lumps together both those who do not die and decay and those who like David do. He insists that all must of necessity be changed, 1 Cor. 15:53. Since he overcame death, Jesus’ resurrection guarantees ours, 1 Cor. 15:20-23 and since he was changed at his ascension, he provided the model of the ascension transformation of those who are still alive at the end of history when he returns for his own, 1 Cor. 15:51-54.) But next, the Jesus who ascended as the firstborn of the sons of God (Rom. 8:29, cf. Heb. 2:10-13) was also the firstborn of the dead (Rev. 1:5) and therefore the firstborn to enter heaven as God’s spiritual Son (Heb. 1:6). He thereby regained his former glory but this time as man perfected in the image of God (Heb. 1:3). And in case we have any illusions we do well to ask ourselves how flesh can possibly be perfected in the image of God? The plain fact is that our flesh is perfected (reaches maturity) in this life and from that point on declines (shows evidence of decay) till death occurs (cf. Heb. 8:13). That is why Jesus had to ascend and be transformed.
On page 85 Stott tells his readers that the resurrection of Jesus is the ground of both the redemption of nature (presumably on the absurd Augustinian assumption that nature in its entirety was cursed and constitutionally changed as the result of Adam’s sin) and of our natural physical bodies despite John 3:1-8. In support of this he quotes 1 Peter 1:3 to the effect that God “has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The problem here is that Jesus, as opposed to Nicodemus, made it clear beyond equivocation in John 3 that the new birth is spiritual, not physical. Since it is true that the body of Jesus was material, far from being redeemed and transfigured, it was resurrected and hence necessarily identical with what it was before. Again, since this body was mortal, corruptible flesh, it was far from being the ground of the redemption of creation. Manifestly, it still needed ascension transformation (John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:50-54). In confirmation of this it must be added that the ‘living hope’ to which Peter refers is doubtless the same as the ‘invisible hope’ to which Paul refers in Romans 8:24f. And since it was invisible, it was immaterial (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7; Heb. 11:1, pace the commentators on and modern translators of Romans 8:18-25 on which see my Romans 8:18-25).
The redemption and/or regeneration of corruptible nature can be regarded as necessary only if it was the result of sin, and this brings us to Dr Stott’s nemesis. He has swallowed hook, line and sinker the sin-dominated Augustinian worldview involving original perfection, fall, cosmic curse and restoration which is part of the Anglican tradition (6* See espec. Art. 9, and my essay J.I.Packer on Original Sin, The Biblical Worldview). It is, however, contrary to the Bible. What Scripture teaches is that death and corruption (decay) are natural, intrinsic to creation as the work of God himself. While death certainly becomes wages for human beings who break the law (for only if the law is broken can death be wages, cf. Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:56), corruption is inherent, a patent example of divine monergism (Rom. 8:20, though admittedly it can be exacerbated by sin as self-inflicted personal abuse, e.g. smoking, makes evident). The entire animal world which does not know the law and therefore cannot sin testifies to this (cf. Rom. 4:15, etc.). Even more to the point Jesus himself was living proof of it for he, though sinless, constantly grew older (Luke 3:23; John 8:57, etc.) and, though not subject to death as wages, would eventually have faded away (cf. Heb. 8:13; 1 Pet. 1:4) had he not been transformed at his ascension into heaven, the eternal world. Furthermore, we know that the world is subject by divine decree to corruption (Rom. 8:20) because in contrast with God it also is subject to aging (Heb. 1:11). Throughout Scripture the eternal God is distinguished from the temporal things that have been made, that is, manufactured or ‘made by hand’ (Gen. 1:1; 8:22; Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 40:6-8; 43:10; 45:11f.; 51:6,8; 54:10; Mt. 24:35; Heb. 1:10-12; 3:3; 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; 1 John 2:15-17; Rev. 20:11, etc., and see my Manufactured Or Not So.)
Under traditional Augustinian influence Dr Stott has confused physical resurrection (cf. Lazarus) with spiritual corporeal transformation and glorification. Otherwise expressed, he has merged Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and in effect made the ascension transformation, to which Paul refers as a necessity, redundant. This is the unavoidable consequence of his assumption that sin is the sole cause of physical as opposed to moral corruption. He has failed to recognize that if Jesus had to be transformed from glory (John 17:5) at his incarnation, then obviously he had to be re-transformed back to glory at his ascension (John 17:24, cf. 6:62, etc.) having completed a fully Adamic human life. On the other hand, if he had been transformed at his resurrection as flesh, he would not have been able to return to glory at all (1 Cor. 15:50). (7* Cf. Harris whose work From Grave to Glory in effect also robs the ascension of the significance given to it by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54. On page 422 Harris stresses Jesus’ literal visible flesh at his ‘ascension’ but tries to evade its implied denial of Paul’s plain teaching by asserting that Jesus at his resurrection from the dead “received a spiritual body whose natural habitat was heaven”, p.425. Apart from the plainly fallacious idea that flesh can be glorified, the ascension is hereby reduced to mere drama and/or parable. Along with Geisler, p.100, I believe that this scenario is not only wrong but it also smacks of deception.) Just as there is no room for the sinner in the house (John 8:35), so there is no room for the fleshly child of the slave woman (Gal. 4:29f.). The fleshly slave like the creation from which it stems is permanently in bondage by divine design (Rom. 8:20) and it can have no other end but destruction (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.). Dr Stott apparently wants to eternalize both the flesh and the perishable creation from which it emanates despite Paul’s categorical assertion with regard to both in 1 Corinthians 15:50. (8* See Stott also in The Message of Romans, espec. p.240. This work is theologically something of a disaster.)
Having just read (June 2011) about the inheritance of the tribes of Israel in the book of Joshua, I am only too aware that whereas the inheritance of the Levites (who typified Christian ‘priests’, 1 Pet. 2:9) was God himself (Jos. 13:14,33, etc.), that of God is his spiritual people (Dt. 32:9; 1 K. 8:51,53; Jer. 10:16; 51:19; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14, etc.). As in the NT the merely fleshly and non-spiritual are excluded (Mt. 3:12; 13:30; John 8:44; 1 Cor. 6:9f.; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5, etc.) Well did The Shorter Catechism say that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever (Ps. 16:11; 73:25-28; John 17:3, etc.).
If my conclusions outlined above are correct, it remains for me to stress the following:
1. If after his resurrection Jesus’ body was visible, scars and all, it was still physical and earthly, and therefore impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18).
2. If Jesus was still flesh (Luke 24:39, etc.), on the one hand he could not have been transformed and on the other he could not go to heaven (1 Cor. 15:50). The glorification of corruptible flesh as opposed to the glorification of the body (Phil. 3:21) is a contradiction in terms. In the words of James Dunn though soma can cross the boundary of the ages, sarx belongs firmly to this present age (Romans p. 391). This view would seem to receive support from Jesus’ comment in Matthew 10:28, etc., that we are not to fear those who can kill the body (flesh) but cannot kill the soul. Indeed, it is further upheld by the notion that we put off the body of flesh (Col. 2:11) and put to death what is earthly in us (Col. 3:1-5, cf. Eph. 2:19; Phil. 3:20) even if these verses in context are to be understood metaphorically (contrast 2 Pet. 1:13f.).
3. Just as Jesus had said that all without exception must (dei) be born again (John 3:7), so Paul said that all without exception must (dei) be changed (1 Cor. 15:53). (9* See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities .) Unless he was Docetic, the Jesus who was transformed at his incarnation had necessarily to experience new birth at his baptism and re-transformation at his ascension (John 3:13; 6:62). Nothing less could be expected of the pioneer of our salvation.
4. There is no connection in the Bible between the resurrection of Jesus and the redemption of creation. The idea clearly depends on the false inferences that sin is exclusively the problem with this world and that Jesus was transformed at his resurrection from the dead. However, since both flesh and the creation from which it stems were subjected to corruption by God himself in (invisible) hope (Rom. 8:20,24f.), the transformation of both is ruled out of court.
5. According to Scripture, flesh, like all created things (1 Cor. 3:12-15; Heb. 12:26-29; 1 Pet. 1:7; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12), can dwell neither with fire (Isa. 33:14, cf. James 5:3; Heb. 12:20) nor with light (1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 2:8). The glorified Jesus is both fire and light like God himself (Luke 17:24; Acts 9,22,26; 2 Thes. 1:7f.; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15f.; Rev. 1:12-16, etc.). We are thus forced to infer that he was not transformed at his resurrection.
6. Obsession with the physical/material arises from a false covenant theology and failure to recognize that while the old covenant is essentially earth-centred, the new covenant is essentially heaven-centred. Confusion occurs because of the overlap. For example, we continue in the flesh even when we are (spiritually) born again. It is only when we die and our flesh gives way to final corruption that eternal life is consummated in us. It is a question of the already but not yet. During our stay on the earth our flesh remains a barrier or curtain between us and God, and it is only when the flesh is dispensed with by death and corruption that access to God is fully achieved. Thus when Jesus died on the cross, the temple veil was ripped apart and he entered spiritually into the most holy place, Heb. 6:19f.; 10:19-21. And it should be carefully noted that while he committed his spirit to his Father, he left his flesh in the grave awaiting his resurrection return (cf. Luke 8:55).
7. There is also failure to realize that there is no physical description of Jesus in the NT. So to stress his physicality or to imagine that he could possibly be physically transformed suggests an element of idolatry which even the OT rejects. If Jesus could be seen and touched after his putative physical transformation, he was clearly still ‘made by hand’ and categorized with the idols of the nations who also could be seen and touched but not heard (cf. e.g. Ps. 115). (10* See my Manufactured Or Not So.) This suggests that Jesus was neither wholly God nor wholly man. As I understand the NT, once he had achieved perfection, he was completely both (Mt. 5:48; 19:21; Heb. 1:3). Just as Jesus’ sonship was consummated in power (Rom. 1:4), so our sonship as the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:23) is consummated (Rom. 8:23) in power (1 Cor. 15:43; Phil. 3:21; Col. 3:4).
If we hold with Stott and many others that Jesus was transformed at his resurrection, then we are forced to face certain unavoidable implications.
First, if Jesus was still flesh after his resurrection transformation, it is difficult in light of 1 Corinthians 15:46-49 to see how he differed from Adam. Traditional dogma, of course, has been fashioned not by the Bible but by Rabbinic and Augustinian theology. Adam himself was believed to be not only originally righteous, holy and even immortal before the ‘fall’ but also of outstanding physical beauty (Hick, pp.70ff.). How then did Jesus as the sinless second Adam miss out? The plain fact is that Paul’s view is entirely different from our inherited tradition. According to him the difference between the two Adams is the difference between dust (earth) and spirit (heaven), not between protology and eschatology, between original perfection, sin (fall) and restoration (cf. John 3:1-8). Since sin and death are not part of Paul’s purview as in Romans 5:12-21, he is free to teach about natural corruption in 1 Corinthians 15:46-50. (11* See further my Death and Corruption, Two ‘Natural’ Necessities, Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?) As a reader of the OT (e.g. Ps. 78:39; 103:14, etc.), he, like Jesus, knew that though the spirit is willing the flesh is weak by nature (Mt. 26:41; 2 Cor. 13:4, cf. Heb. 7:17-19). For him the flesh which stems from a transient creation has both a beginning (Gen.1:1) and an end (Mt. 24:35; 28:20, cf. Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). In other words it is inherently temporal and cannot be eternalized. Regrettably, the tendency of Augustinian theology to falsely ethicize the flesh has proved disastrous for our understanding of the Bible.
Second, if Jesus was still flesh after his resurrection transformation, we are forced to wonder (apart from John 20:17) why he took the line he did when answering the Sadducees’ question about the much married widow in heaven (Mark 12:18-27). If we are still flesh in heaven, why cannot we be married, or be like the Muslims and enjoy 70 virgins? After all, Stott says Jesus gained new powers (p.76, cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-44 which apparently refers to heaven not earth). Perhaps increased or rejuvenated virility will be the order of the day! Luke 20:34-36 lead me to believe that in heaven after our transformation our bodies will be not be fleshly but non-material spiritual bodies. So the spirits of just men (and women) made perfect (Heb. 12:23) will therefore be immortal like the angels who are ministering spirits (Heb. 1:14). This is not to deny of course that they will have what Paul calls spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:44, cf. 2 Cor. 5:1) like that of Jesus (Phil. 3:21). In this way personal identity is maintained. Though we shall be gods as the (adopted) sons of God (cf. John 10:34; 2 Pet. 1:4), we shall not Nirvana-like become God, but, according to Peter, we shall nonetheless live in the spirit like God (John 3:6b; 1 Pet. 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:4).
Again, we are frequently told that the resurrection of Jesus whose flesh was putatively transformed provides the model of our own resurrection. It is difficult to see how. Both Peter and Paul in Acts 2 and 13 respectively refer to David who unlike Jesus experienced complete corruption. This constitutes a problem since the majority of us like David lose our flesh. The question then arises as to how we are to recover it so as to be transformed like Jesus who is still flesh. The difficulty here is that according to Jesus it is flesh that produces flesh (John 3:6a, cf. 1 Cor. 15:48). If that is the case then Nicodemus was right after all to speculate about re-entering our mother’s womb. But this raises a further problem: our mothers have also died and undergone decay. In light of this we can only conclude that we shall have to go back to the beginning of creation and experience re-incarnation! But on reflection even this is impossible if the earth which was our first mother has also been destroyed. The net result of this is that only Jesus and a few saints at the end of the age will experience transformed flesh. The rest of us are presumably gone forever!
There is another point. Don Carson says that adultery in heaven is ‘unthinkable’ (p.175). Should he not have said ‘impossible’? If so, the absurd traditional interpretation of Genesis 6:4 is ruled out of court. (12* See my Who Are The Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4?)
Third, mention of rejuvenation raises another question. If we are going to be physically transformed like Jesus, shall we be in our thirties as he was or shall we be eternalized in the flesh at about the age of 80 or 90? Actually, since all material things including flesh age by divine decree at creation (Rom. 8:20; Heb. 1:11), we, including Jesus, should continue to age everlastingly. But, as the author of Hebrews recognizes, this is impossible (8:13, cf. 1:11; Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8).
Fourth, this prompts another question. After his putative resurrection transformation we are told three times that Jesus ate material food (like the Israelites in the wilderness who died, John 6:31,49). Yet Jesus himself tells us that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled. The problem here is that if he as flesh is to urinate and defecate in heaven, he will in accord with OT teaching have to hide himself from his Father (Dt. 23:12-14). This scenario brings its own condemnation. The truth is that if Jesus had been genuinely transformed and had a spiritual body, unless he was involved in deception he would not have eaten perishable food at all but would have survived on ‘living water’ and ‘living bread’ which alone endures to eternal life (Mt. 4:4; John 4:10-14; 6:26-63). So testimony to his eating after his resurrection proves either that his flesh was still the same as it was before his resurrection or that he was deceiving his followers.
Fifth, according to Paul visibility implies material impermanence and invisibility immaterial permanence (Rom. 8:20,24f.; 2 Cor. 4:18, etc.). So, if we adopt the idea that Jesus was transformed at his resurrection, we are compelled to believe that he was invisible. This, however, contradicts the evidence. But worse, if it were true, the apostles would have been deprived of their status as eyewitnesses. Doubting Thomas’ standing as an apostle depended on his testifying to Jesus’ physical resurrection not his transformation. Those who had not seen were blessed by believing his testimony (cf. 1 Pet. 1:8). The plain fact is that if Jesus had been transformed, the apostles would never have known that he had been raised unless they had been granted an experience similar to that of Paul.
Sixth, there is then the question of glorification. In the NT there is noticeably no physical description of Jesus at all, and Isaiah tells us that he had “no beauty that we should desire him” (53:2). At best then he was just ordinary or non-descript. In 33:17, however, Isaiah talks of seeing the king in his beauty (cf. Isa. 66:18; John 17:24). We are therefore forced to infer that in heaven his beauty, glory, splendour and majesty are somewhat different from his drab physical appearance on earth (cf. Heb. 1:3f., cf. Acts 9, etc.). If we deny this, we have to assume those who are ugly on earth will remain so for eternity in heaven.
Seventh, if Jesus as man set out to gain the perfection of God (Mt. 5:48; 19:21), he did so as one made in the image of God not as a fleshly animal. In other words, he aimed not merely at divine holiness, and righteousness which the first Adam failed like the rest of us to attain, but also the perfection of his generic nature (cf. Rom. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:53; 2 Tim. 1:10; 2 Pet. 1:4; John 17:5,24). He himself tells us that God is spirit (John 4:22) and therefore immortal and incorruptible (Rom. 1:23). As flesh Jesus would not have measured up, not least because flesh was created (cf. Rom. 1:25), and all created things (Rom. 1:20) are slated for destruction (Heb. 12:27)! But there is another point: if flesh can be transformed, by parity of reasoning we ought to assume animal salvation. The very thought staggers the imagination.
In sum, the notion that the flesh can be transformed implies basic misunderstanding (John 3:1-8). Behind it lies the fundamentally false worldview fashioned for us by Augustine. The creation, fall restoration schema that characterizes Reformed theology is deeply flawed. It even suggests a desire on the part of Christians to go back metaphorically to Egypt (cf. Num. 11:4f.) and to idolatry (Dt. 4:19; 1 John 2:15-17)! Enough said.
F.F.Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John, Exeter, 1993.
D.A.Carson, The God Who Is There, Grand Rapids, 2010.
J.D.G.Dunn, Romans 1-8, Dallas, 1988.
G.D.Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, 1987.
N.Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, Nashville, 1992.
M.Harris, From Grave to Glory, Grand Rapids, 1990.
J.Hick, Evil and the Love of God, Fontana ed. London, 1968.
W.L.Lane, Hebrews 9-13, Dallas, 1991.
J.B.Phillips, Your God Is Too Small, London, 1952 repr.1968.
Note: No flesh will boast before God (1 Cor. 1:29; Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16).
Stott has attempted to put new wine into old wineskins (Luke 5:36-39), to pour eternal spiritual life into a temporal body of mortal flesh. According to both Jesus (John 3:1-8) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:50) this is inherently impossible not least because God has decreed it.
Note that the resurrection of Jesus does NOT provide the model of ours despite frequent claims that it does. How could it since he did not see corruption and we do? Certainly his resurrection is the ground of ours (1 Cor. 15:20-23) but ours will resemble that of David who also saw corruption (Acts 2:29,34; 13:36).