One would presume that a title like that would be for an article about the quality of our lives as Christians, and of course that’s the goal: to be like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). But today, as the churches plan to celebrate “Easter”, I’d like to focus on Jesus’ resurrection as it pertains to the physical and the metaphysical, since this most fundamental tenet of our faith is so poorly understood. I will present three important passages of scripture and comment after each.
2 Cor 4:10–11
In our bodies we carry the death of Jesus, yet we also thereby exhibit his life. We who are alive are always facing death because of Jesus, so that his life will be exhibited in our mortal flesh.
What kind of death did Jesus die? Physical, bodily, fleshly, mortal— not spiritual. This is very important yet largely ignored. Mortal flesh is that which is physical and able to die. Jesus had this as his sharing of our humanity (Heb. 2:14, 18, 4:15, Rom. 8:3 [Note: the Greek word is sarx, flesh]) for the purpose of redeeming us (Gal. 3:13—14, 4:5, Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 1:18). And since Jesus could not have “shared” in sin (Heb. 4:15), then “flesh” cannot be intrinsically (by nature) sinful. Syllogistically stated,
- P1 – Jesus is sinless
- P2 – Jesus shares in our flesh
- C – Our flesh is sinless
But the objection will come, “Rom. 8:3 says ‘sinful flesh’” (Note: curious that the TNIV does not translate sarx as “sinful nature” here). And I would counter, “Then the Bible contradicts itself, because it says plainly that Jesus shared in our flesh and yet was sinless.” Now we can’t just gloss over the “likeness” part, which combined with “sinful flesh” means “the appearance or form of sinful flesh”, not that Jesus’ flesh was literally sinful. But the reason this is so quickly rejected by many is that they jump to the conclusion that it opens the door for the Gnostic teaching of Jesus not having come in the flesh at all (1 John 4:2–3).
The solution, I believe, is in interpreting the phrase as a whole and not merely the sum of its parts. “The likeness of sinful flesh” means that Jesus, though obviously in a mortal body or He could not have died at all, never succumbed to the temptations of the flesh (Mt. 4:3, Heb. 4:15, James 1:13). Is temptation sin? Of course not, or the mere fact that Jesus was tempted would have made Him a sinner. It is the giving in that is sin, and all of us have done that, yet our flesh has no different appearance than Jesus’. Even His post-resurrection body was not so obviously different from the mortal, or Mary and the others who saw Him would not have mistaken Him for a gardener or other ordinary people. But our mortal, dying flesh has needs and cravings, and it is the mark of a mature person to subdue and control those cravings.
That said, then we have to ask what kind of life we’re talking about here as well, since both are being compared in the same context. And it follows from the “death” being defined as physical, that the “life” must also be physical. The scriptures:
And just as we were buried together with him through immersion into his death, so also, just as the Anointed was raised from among the dead through the glory of the Father, we will keep in step with him in a new life. For if we have become united with his kind of death, then we have also become united with his kind of resurrection. We know that our old person was crucified together with him, so that the body of Failure would be neutralized, and we would not continue to slave for Failure. The one who died has been released from Failure.
1 Cor. 15:3–4, 20–26, 35–57
One of the first things I conveyed to you is what I too had accepted: that the Anointed died for our failures according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he has been raised the third day according to the scriptures.
Yet the Anointed has in fact risen from the dead— the primary offering of them. For since death came through a human, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a human. Just as we all die because of Adam, so also we will all be made alive because of the Anointed, yet each in their proper order: the Anointed as the primary offering, then those belonging to the Anointed upon his arrival, and after that the completion, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father and neutralizes all rule and authority and power. For he must reign until he places all opponents under his feet. The last opponent to be neutralized is Death.
But someone will protest, "How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have?" Dimwit! What you plant will not live unless it first dies. And the body you plant is not the body that will rise but only a plain kernel of wheat or whatever… And so it is with the resurrection of the dead. A dead body is planted in mortality but raised in immortality; it is planted in dishonor but raised in glory; it is planted in weakness but raised in power; it is sown as a soulish body but raised as a spiritual body. It follows, then, that if there is a soulish body there must also be a spiritual one, and so it is written: "The first human, Adam, became a living soul". The Last Adam is a living Spirit. But the soulish must come before the spiritual. The first person, from the earth, was soulish; the second Person came from heaven. All the soulish are like the soulish one, but all the heavenly are like the Heavenly One. And just as we bore the image of the soulish one, we will also bear the image of the Heavenly One.
What I am trying to tell you, brothers and sisters, is that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and the mortal cannot inherit the immortal. Look, I'm telling you a secret: We will not all die but we will all be transformed!— in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For he will sound the trumpet, and the dead will be raised immortal and we will be transformed. This mortal must put on immortality, and the dying must put on life. Now when this happens, then the written word will be fulfilled: "Death was swallowed by victory! Death, where is your conquest? Death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is failure, and the power of failure is the Law. But give thanks to God, who gives us the victory by means of our Master Jesus the Anointed!
Our own resurrection or transformation will not be merely living eternally, but living eternally in an immortal body. And if it is our very mortality, our dying flesh, that has cravings, then the immortal body will not have those cravings, and thus we will be freed from “this body of death” (Rom. 7:24, 2 Cor. 4:10). But the wicked are never offered this immortal flesh, yet they too “live eternally” but in suffering. So spirits live forever, regardless of location, yet only the righteous do so in an immortal body. To say otherwise is to say that our merely spiritual (i.e. non-physical) resurrection is just like Jesus’, which would mean Jesus had to have died spiritually, which of course is a blasphemous idea. Rather, the analogy is from Him to us, such that our own resurrection must be physical as His was.
“Death” in the scriptures is often used as a figure of speech for “separation”, whether spiritual or physical, per such passages as Rom. 6:1–10, Rom. 7:9, and Col. 2:20. But this hardly means it must always be figurative, or we make nonsense out of many other scriptures. Context is everything, but we need to un-learn much of what has been drilled into us as the “proper” interpretation. And the same goes for “life”, as we have seen.
As we approach the celebration of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead, let us be resolved to stop treating the ramifications of that event as trivial or vaguely-understood things. We are not to present ourselves as slaves to sin, nor to battle an imaginary inherited force as if we are Don Quixote. Instead, our real battle is with spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12) and to control “the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16), because it is only when we indulge that flesh, either in thought or action, that we sin. No one is fated to reject the offer of life Jesus paid for.